Although biologists at Game and Fish Department know a significant amount of information about mule deer and what impacts their overall success, it’s not enough.
From decades of research and data collection, biologists aware weather, habitat and chronic wasting disease affect Wyoming’s mule deer populations. But in the last 30 years, mule deer populations have declined to a point that is worrisome to wildlife managers and the public.
Even with the bulk of information on mule deer and tested management strategies, there are no quick fixes for the decline in mule deer populations. However, biologists believe new tools and technologies could offer more robust data to inform management and prosperity of mule deer.
Enter the groundbreaking Mule Deer Monitoring Project. The project seeks to collect information on understudied herds to enhance mule deer conservation.
It will collect more information on mule deer than ever before and interpret that data faster and in a more immediate, usable way. The 5-year project looks at six areas considered critical for mule deer management: abundance, composition, data management, survival, herd health and harvest management.
A main component of the project is to answer important questions for mule deer managers — how many individuals are there in a herd? Understanding abundance is the cornerstone of management. To increase abundance data, Game and Fish plans to increase surveys significantly, scaling up from surveying one herd a year to eight.
Wildlife managers are focusing on five local herds, some of which have never been intensely studied. Those focal herds are the Laramie Mountains, North Bighorn, Sweetwater, Upper Shoshone and Wyoming Range.
The monitoring project also will look at the herds composition, the number of male, female and juvenile deer in the herd. This will be done through aerial counts, trail cameras and ground surveys.
A large amount of data in the project will come from 1,000 collared mule deer. The data will be key to learning more about the day-to-day lives of these animals. With this data biologists will be able to see where the deer go, where they stay, what habitat they use and what they avoid. Additionally, collar data will help measure herd performance, assess mortality, evaluate harvest strategies, update seasonal range maps and more.
Processing of the massive amount of data will be obtainable through a partnership with the University of Wyoming. Researchers from the university will take the immense volume of data, analyze it and return it to the department.
Game and Fish and partners hit the ground running in late November. The first task has been deploying collars and beginning intensive surveys. The data will roll into biologists’ email inboxes soon after. Throughout the year Game and Fish plans to update the public quarterly on what they are learning.