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Wisconsin project seeks info on predator impact on deer herd

From the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

-- Two projects set to get underway this winter in Wisconsin will look at the causes of death in bucks and fawns including the roles of predators, weather and hunters.

The new deer research projects are designed to answer questions important to hunters and managers of Wisconsin's white-tailed deer herd.

"Many hunters are concerned with our deer population model accuracy and the impacts of predators," said Keith Warnke, big game ecologist. "In response to those concerns the department is investing a record amount of resources into this research."

An audit by international wildlife experts found the department's deer population modeling system to be sound and one of the best in the country, but Warnke said challenges have led to the new research projects.

Hunter harvest is the largest cause of death for bucks. Biologists refer to the portion of bucks killed by hunters each year as the buck recovery rate . Over the course of five years deer will be captured, tagged and monitored to determine their cause of death whether it is because of hunters or natural causes such as wolves, bears, coyotes, bobcats, weather and accidents. The Buck Recovery Rate is a key component of accurate deer population estimates.

"The distribution and abundance of predators on Wisconsin's landscape has changed over time," Warnke says. "From the time a doe is impregnated to the time the fall hunting season begins, a number of fawns are lost every year to various causes before and after birth including weather, food availability and nutrition, disease, predation and accidents."

This study will measure the role of predation on recruitment which is the number of deer added to the population each year by fawns surviving into the fall. Researchers will gather data on doe pregnancy rates and litter sizes and fawn survival and causes of mortality from birth to the hunting season.

"We will also attempt to identify the specific predators of fawns, mainly wolves, bears, bobcats and coyotes, and measure the impact predation has on recruitment," Warnke said.

Little is known, Warnke said, about the impact of coyote and bobcat predation on deer in Wisconsin. Similar research is underway in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The two states are sharing results.

Researchers and volunteers will place deer traps in Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, Price, Shawano, Waupaca and Outagamie counties at the close of the deer hunting seasons.

Captured deer will be fitted with radio collars and ear tags. In the spring, fawns born to monitored does also will be fitted with radio-telemetry collars.

In addition to DNR scientists, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Wildlife Ecology, UW Applied Population Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point are involved along with the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Safari Club International, Union Sportsmen's Alliance and Whitetails Unlimited.

These groups will be looking for help from the state's deer hunters in gathering information on deer numbers in the state.

"We are encouraging all hunters and anyone who is interested to volunteer to help on these projects," said Warnke.

Hunters can check the White-tailed Deer Research Projects page of the DNR website and follow the "Sign up today" link to complete the volunteer form, or they can contact a local wildlife biologist. For more information call Warnke at (608) 264-6023.

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