Wildlife biologists in both Washington and Idaho will be busy in the coming weeks capturing deer and other ungulates in an effort to improve management of the animals.
In southeastern Washington, about 10 mule deer does will be captured and fitted with satellite tracking collars as part of a continuing study in Garfield, Columbia and Walla Walla counties. More deer will be captured on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range in Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas and Klickitat counties in separate studies.
Idaho Fish and Game researchers plan to capture and collar both whitetail and mule deer, elk and moose in Game Management Unit 10A of the Clearwater Region and units 1 and 6 of the Panhandle Region.
The work in southeastern Washington aims to follow about 50 mule deer to better understand survival rates, causes of mortality and the migration patterns and travel distances of the animals. Paul Wik, district biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Clarkston, said the data being collected is helping agency officials hone their annual population surveying models.
For example, deer often are surveyed while they are on winter range. Understanding that some of the deer counted during the surveys are only temporary residents and spend the summer and fall in different areas and different game management units, biologists are using the data to ensure they aren’t over- or underestimating individual populations.
“Where the deer distribute for summer and fall hunting seasons, we wanted to make sure we are capturing them so we can take the survey data and apply it to hunting seasons, permits levels and (season) structures,” Wik said.
The deer in the study, now in its third year, are largely captured on agricultural land or grasslands in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Wik said the animals tend to move to higher elevations in the summer, but so far none have moved onto the Umatilla National Forest.
“We are already seeing a lot of diversity in migration. Some deer migrate quite a ways, and some aren’t even going 5 kilometers.”
One doe has swum across the Snake River two years in a row to spend the winter on its south side and then crossed it again in the spring to spend the summer and fall on the north side “almost to Spokane County.” Wik said the doe covers about 30 miles during the investigation.
Initial data also indicates the migration is based more on time of year than arrival of wintry weather.
“By early October they are starting to move to winter range, and snow is not typically present at that time of year,” Wik said.
The study in Okanogan County also is being used to improve survey models. The work in Chelan, Kittitas and Klickitat counties is being done in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to help guide habitat conservation efforts and protection of important winter range.
The work in the Gem State also is part of continuing research. Biologists are tracking deer, elk and moose to better understand how they use habitat, how they interact with predators like wolves and mountain lions, and how the animals react to hunting.
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