Today in the Casper Star Tribune (click hear for article) the Largest mule deer study in state looks at fawns and predators. This is a huge undertaking and the start of the 2nd stage of the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Initiative. This stage will look at mule deer fawn survival rates and attempt to determine the role that predation is playing on the Wyoming Range Mule Deer population. The article quotes professor Keith Monteith as having said “It’s accepted that if we want to grow more mule deer, we need to grow more fawns.” This study hopes to answer questions that several Sportsmen have been asking about mule deer populations and the impacts that predators may place on them. Those that attended the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Initiative, which started in 2010, can probably remember some of the questions which were asked. From past discussions and participation, one question was the timing of the closing of spring bear seasons. Several outfitters questioned if quotas were being filled early because younger bears were quicker to respond to current hunting techniques while older bears may be focusing more on mule deer fawns and less likely to visit bait stations. One thing remains certain and that is that black bear numbers have significantly grown in recent years. It was interesting that an article also appeared in the same paper, stating that spring bear season closed in Wyoming today.
The article said “various groups, including the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Muley Fanatic Foundation, the Animal Damage Management Board, and Wyoming G&F helped pay for the roughly $1.5 million study” and that more money is still needed to complete the final year and a half of the study.
The article quotes WY G&F biologists Gary Fralick as saying; “If predation is limiting fawn survival, or is having a great impact on fawn survival, then we need to know and understand which species of predator, whether coyotes, mountain lions or black bears might be having the greatest impact. The department then may consider adjusting hunting seasons for those species. On the other hand, if we are finding fawns that are in poor conditions because perhaps the does weren’t able to produce sufficient milk to nourish them, we can figure out what to do in the birth sites to improve the type of plant to improve condition of does.”
Researchers will continue to monitor fawns throughout the summer and attempt to locate dead fawns and determine cause of death. If they are killed by predators, they will attempt to identify which species were involved. Hopefully, we can finally document predation rates, identify the culprits and address declining mule deer numbers in the Wyoming Range. This is a very unique system wherein mule deer fawns are the primary food source for a robust population of black bears. In addition to black bears, mule deer fawns must also avoid mountain lions, coyotes, bob cats and eagles.
Few Sportsmen may understand or be aware that non-resident mule deer licenses have been reduced by 80% in the Wyoming Range. This is a major reason why Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife has been pushing to see mule deer management raised to a higher priority or even given a priority by the G&F Commission.