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Deer movement study to begin in northwestern Minnesota

From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

-- Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota are launching a pilot research project later this month to gain a better understanding of movements and habitat use of white-tailed deer in northwestern Minnesota.

"This is an area where continuous forest changes into a more agricultural landscape," said Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program coordinator. "Deer behavior in transitional habitats is not as well understood as it is in forest and farmland habitats."

The proposed study area is approximately 140 square miles and lies just south of the bovine tuberculosis (TB) management zone, where efforts have been focused in recent years to manage the disease in both deer and cattle. The area is just east of Grygla and includes a mix of agricultural, state forest and state wildlife management lands.

While DNR disease management efforts have been successful in the area, the experience gained made it clear that a better understanding on how deer use such a diversified habitat is needed.

"Do deer use farmed areas more frequently if they are available to them, considering they also have access to state forest and wildlife management area lands?" Carstensen said. "By improving our understanding of how deer may use farmed and pastured areas differently than natural habitats, we can gain more insight into which practices may better minimize the risks of disease transmission between wild deer and livestock."

Scott Wells, a professor with the department of veterinary population medicine at the University of Minnesota, previously developed a risk assessment process that was used by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to evaluate the risk of deer and cattle interactions at farms within the bovine TB management zone.

Wells plans to use the information generated from this study to gain a better understanding of how farming practices, including storage of feed and animal husbandry, might influence how deer use agricultural landscapes.

In mid-January, the DNR plans to capture 12 female and six male deer by helicopter in the study area. Satellite-linked radio collars will track their movements every 90 minutes during a 15-month period.

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