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Work underway to try to save our mule deer


Mule deer have been the subject of concern in recent years experiencing unfortunate decline in numbers and struggling with wasting disease health issues.

Mule deer have a long and storied history in the western states. One of the earliest species of wild game to provide food for western settlers and one of the first big game species to show a trophy impact as western states developed.

Mule deer have shown themselves to be among the wildlife species that have a lesser ability to meld into human population growth, much like lynx, ducks, pheasant, quail and prairie chickens. By contrast, elk, Canada geese, bear, raccoon and coyotes seem to adjust to the threat of human activity and survive when their habitat is consumed and threatened by land development and people.

Studies are underway in Colorado by the Division of Parks and Wildlife to determine why the mule deer population is declining. Also on the table is a deeper look into how energy exploration is threatening mule deer habitat loss and migration routes. An equally significant unknown is why chronic wasting disease has been more threatening to the mule deer than elk. Similar concerns and research is underway on a broader geographic basis by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Our neighbor to the north, Wyoming that relies heavily on the outdoors economy of hunting and fishing initiated an interesting study

in 2015. The Baggs Mule Deer Project team embracing the Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Tony Mong and researchers at the University of Wyoming teamed to develop an agenda taking on a different approach, that being studying buck mule deer migratory routes and behavior. Game specialists know migratory routes are critical to mule deer in terms of food sources, habitat security and birthing of fawns and protection from predators. It is the first such study focusing just on buck mule deer. The project team captured 95 mature bucks during 2015 and 2016, fitted them with a GPS satellite collar which allows them to tract and study daily herd movements.

The ultimate goal of the Baggs Mule Deer Study is to inform managers, researchers, and the public about loss of buck mule deer habitat, migration impacts and timelines. Conclusions will contribute to real time decisions relative to regulating hunting seasons and regions. Additionally, findings will support better decisions on land use and development controls to protect healthy mule deer populations.

Western state game managers anticipate the conclusion of the study in the spring of 2019.

Ron Hellbusch can be reached at Ron-Hellbusch@comcast.net


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