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Deer fare well amidst heat wave but fish face struggle

Posted on July 12, 2012

Springfield — News-reading deer hunters who were educated about epizootic hemorrhagic disease in 2007 certainly have good reason for concern in 2012.

Drought conditions five summers ago were widely blamed for an EHD outbreak that caused hundreds of deer to die off in Illinois, mostly in the southern region. Farmers began finding dead deer hidden in corn and soybean fields, and in their farm ponds, toward the end of summer.

Despite this summer’s dryness, there have been no signs of a similar EHD crisis.

“We lose some deer to the disease every year,” Tom Micetich, deer program manager for‚ÄąDNR, said. “A drought tends to really push the numbers of affected deer way up. We probably won’t really see how the dry summer affects the deer until farmers begin to harvest crops or bowhunters get into the woods and discover carcasses.”

Micetich reported that, as of July 3, he had gotten three calls on EHD so far this year, and those cases involved deer that appeared to be lame for reasons other than EHD, also known as “blue tongue.” EHD is contracted by gnat-like biting midges. Drought conditions help spread the disease because water sources dry up and many deer end up drinking from the same pools of water, creating a situation where the midges are transferred between “drinking buddy” deer.

Deer can die within five to 10 days after being bitten, but the disease is not always fatal. Symptoms include a high fever and swelling of tissues around the eyes and mouth area. EHD is not transmittable to humans.

Meanwhile, the heat wave that pushed temperatures above 100 degrees for several days should have little effect on the health of deer in the state.

Micetich said his only concern is for young deer that may lose some natural cover due to the heat.

“A deer’s body is made to regulate and handle heat, they can draw water from concentrated fats in their bodies and they have the ability to draw moisture from food sources,” he said. “What we worry about is the heat and drought killing vegetation that fawns use to hide from predators. When those plants shrivel up, suddenly the young deer are exposed.”

Fish kills likely this summer

Like deer, the state’s fish are watched closely during drought conditions.

Just days after DNR pointed out the dangers of low water and rising water temperatures, several fish kills were reported up and down the state.

White County officials reported a large lake at the corner of Illinois 141 and Epworth Road was littered with dead fish on July 4. Lakes in northern Illinois forest preserves and ponds in west-central Illinois also reported fish kills in early July.

“Typically, the pond owner doesn’t notice anything unusual until one July through September morning, and then fish are either belly up or are gasping for air,” DNR Assistant Fisheries Chief Dan Stephenson said.

“The largest fish are affected first. Generally, pond owners will see the large channel catfish die first, followed by bass then bluegills, and working its way down to the smallest fish as the oxygen levels get lower and lower.”

Not much can be done to prevent fish kills, Stephenson pointed out, especially if hot, dry weather persists. About 99 percent of summer fish kills are due to natural conditions that have reduced oxygen levels.

Lack of rain and extreme heat – conditions experienced by much of Illinois this summer – can lead to low oxygen levels and typically cause fish kills. Algal blooms also are typical and further deplete oxygen levels, according to the Stephenson.

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