Old Smurfit Stone Mill Site In Montana May Be The Cause Of Deer Die Off!
Editorial News/Press Release September 18, 2013 The "Green Movement" Can Be Linked To The Current Deer Die Off Near Missoula
When the Smurfit Stone paper mill, located just south of Frenchtown, MT, was pretty much forced to close its doors in early 2010, the so-called "green movement" was ecstatic. Despite the loss of 400 much needed jobs in Missoula County, radical environmentalists and extremist environmental groups viewed the closing as a victory for their efforts to turn this region of Western Montana into a non-manufacturing based economy and society.
Just this past week, many local residents have begun to realize that those same efforts can now very likely be given credit for something that, for most residents, actually goes directly against what the environmental movement is supposed to be all about - preserving nature. Thanks to the manner in which the old Smurfit Stone facility has been undergoing demolition, with all efforts being directed to ridding the site of corrugated cardboard manufacturing equipment and buildings, little or no attention has been given to maintaining the plant's grounds.
The majority of the 3,200 acres now under the management of a company known as the Green Investment Group consisted of a vast amount of settling ponds, to clean the waste water produced from the paper making process before the water was returned to the adjacent Clark Fork River. Since the start of the demolition of the manufacturing facility, most of those water settling areas have pretty much gone without any maintenance. And this summer, one of the hottest and driest on record, the combination of pools of stagnant water and unattended man-made marsh is now being blamed for the near total loss of the deer population within a 5 or 6 mile radius of the facility.
Without necessary upkeep, the lack of human involvement on this land has provided one giant incubator for insects - including the a tiny gnat known as Cullicoides variipennis - often referred to as the cattle gnat in Montana's cattle country. This is the biting insect which spreads epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) to a wide range of ungulates - both wild and domestic. It is especially deadly to whitetail deer.
Over the past week and a half, within very close proximity of the old settling ponds of the Smurfit Stone site as many as 300 whitetails have succumbed to EHD. The radius of this "Death Zone" seems to be about 5 or so miles surrounding what is suspected to be the breeding ground for the gnats. One ranch alone, which is located just four or five miles down river from the site has found around 70 dead whitetails, and they fear that there are many more. The neighboring land owner across the river has found close to 30 deer laying dead in hay fields.
Yesterday, September 17, LOBO WATCH founder Toby Bridges checked an island he planned to bow hunt this next week, and found 9 dead deer and two others seriously infected. When they jumped to run, both fell down several times before they were out of sight. He says the two deer most likely died before the end of the day. Once infected by EHD, it is almost a sure death sentence for a deer.
One of the deer he found was a near 20-inch wide 4x4 or 5x5 which had died in the river, and had floated up on a shallow shoal of gravel. Unable to reach the deer due to deep water and fast current, he snapped a few photos from the far bank - and could tell that it was one of the bucks he had patterned and seen a number of times. Now that small island is literally dead, and the smell of rotting carcasses is sickening in more ways than one.
Dr. Jim Clary. Ph.D. is a respected wildlife biologist who has retired to the mountain country of New Mexico, and says the old settling ponds of the Smurfit Stone site are an ideal breeding ground for the Cullicoides gnat. According to Dr. Clary, "They usually attack their victims in a swarm. As with mosquitoes, only the females feed on the blood of their hosts. And in areas where they are common, it is difficult enough to keep them away from cattle, even under normal conditions, let alone a bunch of old mill ponds that prove a natural reservoir for their larvae. They lay their eggs around the edges of the ponds. As long as the ponds are there, these biting midges...gnats...bugs...insects, going by lots of names, will thrive."
Old settling ponds provide one of the most ideal breeding and rearing grounds for this spreader of EHD. The sediment left in those ponds, which are now mostly dry, is extremely rich and fertile. Just five or six inches of rainwater that collects and stands for a couple of weeks provides the opportunity for a new generation of the gnats to hatch. Even if the water itself soaks into the organic matter, the larvae will burrow into the damp dirt until they mature and emerge.
Deer can only contract EHD through the bite of the Cullicoides gnat, which creates a viral infection of internal organs and internal hemorrhaging. The virus can affect some domestic ungulates, especially sheep. Pets and wildlife other than wild ungulates that come into contact with dying or dead deer due to EHD, or which are bitten by the virus carrying gnat cannot contract the disease. Deer which have contracted EHD generally take to the water to try quenching an extreme thirst, due to a swollen tongue that prevents them from drinking - and to cool a dangerously high body temperature. That's why so many dead deer are found in the water.
On Tuesday, September 17, MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks finally issued a press release on the very localized EHD breakout along the stretch of the Clark Fork River which just happens to border the old Smurfit Stone settling pond area. This was only after many phone calls and inquiries from the residents of the area and bow hunters who were finding dead deer just about everywhere.
In that release FWP pointed out that humans cannot contract EHD. Dr. Jim Clary says that statement is not 100-percent correct.
He himself is extremely allergic to the bite of the disease carrying gnats, and he recalls one instance when he was bitten multiple times by a swarm of the gnats. Dr. Clary says that every bite became infected, leaving scars on his arms, which he still has today - 25 years after being bitten by the EHD carrying gnats.
He says, "Glad I wasn't a proper host for EHD!"
The current and ongoing outbreak, just 7 or 8 miles from Missoula, a city of some 70,000 people, is very localized, which is common of EHD breakouts. With cooler weather and cold rains, it will subside. However, in the wake of that outbreak will be the loss of easily 300 or more deer. The mortality rate within the affected area will be nearly 100-percent.
(The photos, and a number of others, on this page were all shot in a couple of hours, and within a half-mile of the same spot. The dead buck shown on the shallow shoal is one of the deer LOBO WATCH founder Toby Bridges had planned to bow hunt as soon as cool weather returned to the area.)
The summer of 2013 has been the perfect storm for the incubation of the Cullicoides gnat...and the old Smurfit Stone paper mill settling ponds the perfect breeding area. Should we have to suffer through another very similar summer again next year, there's a very good chance of another outbreak come August and September of 2014.
Should that happen, the Green Investment Group should be held responsible. Many sportsmen feel that the company should be held responsible for the outbreak that continues as this is written. Currently their only efforts to manage the old mill site has been to demolish the structures and equipment that had been used to produce a heavy cardboard known as liner board. The outlying settling ponds have gone pretty much totally unmanaged. Until those old sediment caked ponds are eliminated, there are very likely future devastating EHD outbreaks ahead for the deer population along that 5 or 6 mile stretch of the Clark Fork River.