MISSOULA, Mont. - NBC Montana is double checking reports of more than 100 white-tailed deer have been found dead in the west Missoula valley.
We got this press release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Tuesday and talked to local hunters and landowners about the number of animal deaths it details.
From what we've learned people are seeing healthy looking deer instantly fall over dead.
Gene Starlin lives near Harper's Bridge, on the west side of the Missoula valley - it's one of the spots Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say they found a number of dead deer and Starlin tells us his grandsons stumbled on some deer corpses just last Sunday.
They were over hunting at Bear Creek over by the old Mormon Ranch and they found four dead deer," Starlin tells us. "All of them were does and they just died and there was no sign of any kind of wounds or anything on them."
FWP officials are questioning whether it is a hemorrhagic disease carried by gnats and biting midges.
According to the website 'The Wildlife News,' an outbreak of this same disease claimed over 15,000 deer in Michigan last year, and estimates there were as high as 70,000 dead.
This year cases are also being reported in New Mexico and North Dakota.
NBC Montana talked to Missoula hunter Jeff Edwards who says news of a possible disease is very concerning.
"I don't want the disease to spread more and maybe get into other animals or something like that," says Edwards.
We did some digging and found out the hemorrhagic disease is not transmissible to humans and FWP reports humans aren't at risk if they handle or eat infected deer.
As for Edwards, he says its sad news for most hunters.
"Well this definitely opens the door to go find some antlers and stuff like that," he says. "Shed hunting is pretty big these days so I guess it's a good opportunity."
Biologists are waiting for tissue samples to come back from the lab; they hope that will help pinpoint the cause.
NBC Montana put in calls to FWP Tuesday as well and once we hear the latest from those officials we will pass those updates along.
If you find a dead white-tailed deer you are asked to call this number (406) 542-5515.
The following is a press release from Montana FWP:
Over one hundred dead white-tailed deer have been reported in the west Missoula Valley, state wildlife officials say. FWP is waiting for lab results to determine the cause of death and is asking the public to report observations of dead deer to help in determining the extent of the affected area.
FWP first responded to reports from local fishing guides and landowners who reported numerous dead deer in and along the Clark Fork River and fields near and downstream from Harper's Bridge. Dead deer have also been found in the Mill Creek area northeast of Frenchtown.
FWP biologists and wardens had accounted for 103 dead deer by Tuesday, with deer still dying and more dead deer undetected.
"The deer may show no outward symptoms of disease," said Vickie Edwards, FWP wildlife biologist in Missoula. "People are seeing healthy looking deer fall over dead."
FWP personnel have collected lung, spleen and blood samples from a number of affected deer and await the results of laboratory analysis to determine the cause of the death. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is a potential culprit.
EHD is transmitted by a biting midge, or gnat, and generally strikes in late summer and early fall. The disease event typically ends within a couple weeks of the first hard frost.
"Hemorrhagic disease viruses are not contagious from one animal to another and are not transmissible to humans," said Jennifer Ramsey, FWP Wildlife Veterinarian in Bozeman. "Transmission is only known to occur through the bite of the gnat."
EHD can be manifested as just a few cases, or as a severe outbreak with a very high mortality rate. In Montana, EHD has historically only been reported east of the Continental Divide. The disease poses no threat to humans.
FWP continues to investigate the geographic extent and magnitude of the affected area and asks the public to phone Edwards at 406-542-5515 with observations and locations of dead white-tailed deer.