Game and Fish launches 5-year mule deer monitoring project

Work aims to collect information on under-surveyed herds to improve mule deer conservation

11/21/2022 4:43:33 PM

Cheyenne – Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists know a significant amount of information about mule deer and what affects their overall success through decades of research and data collection. Through their research, they are well aware that weather, habitat, and chronic wasting affect Wyoming’s mule deer populations. These environmental factors play an important role in the fluctuation of mule deer populations. But over the past 30 years, mule deer populations have declined to a point that worries wildlife managers and the public.

Even with the mass of mule deer information and tested management strategies, there is no silver bullet to declining mule deer populations. However, Game and Fish biologists believe that new tools and technologies could offer stronger data to inform mule deer management and prosperity.

Enter the revolutionary mule deer monitoring project.

The project seeks to collect more information about mule deer than ever before – and to interpret that data faster and in a more immediate and usable way. The 5-year project examines six areas considered critical to mule deer management: abundance, composition, data management, survival, herd health and harvest management.

A main element of the monitoring project is to shed light on one of the most ingrained and important questions for mule deer managers – how many individuals are there in a herd? Understanding abundance, as the study calls it, is the cornerstone of management. To increase abundance data, Game and Fish plans to dramatically increase surveys, from one survey of one flock per year to eight.

For most other components of the project, wildlife managers focus on five local herds, some of which have never been thoroughly studied. These central herds are the Laramie Mountains, North Bighorn, Sweetwater, Upper Shoshone, and Wyoming Range.

The monitoring project will also closely examine the composition of the target herds. Composition means the number of male, female and juvenile deer in the herd. This will be done by aerial counts, surveillance cameras and ground surveys.

A large amount of data in the project will come from 1,000 collared mule deer. The data will be essential to learn more about the daily lives of these animals. With this data, Game and Fish will be able to see where deer go and where they stay, what habitat they use and where they avoid, giving biologists the ability to dig into why. Additionally, collar data will help measure herd performance, assess causes of mortality, evaluate harvesting strategies, update seasonal range maps, and more.

Massive data processing will be achieved through a partnership with the University of Wyoming. University researchers will take the huge volume of data, analyze it and send it back to the department.

Game and Fish and its partners will start at the end of November. The first task will be to deploy collars, then begin intensive surveys. The data will start arriving in biologists’ inboxes soon after. Throughout the year, Game and Fish plans to update the public quarterly on what they are learning.

This story, written by staff at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Wyoming Wildlife magazine. To read the full article, please visit the magazine’s webpage.

(Breanna Ball, Statewide Information Specialist – ([email protected]))