Last Year's Severe Snows Mean Fatter Mule Deer This Winter

Jan 18, 2018

Credit Willow Belden

Last year, the Wyoming Range mule deer herd died in incredibly high numbers because of record-breaking snow depths. That same snow, however, meant extra deep grasses for the surviving deer, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Gary Fralick.

Fralick is part of the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Project’s effort to understand why the population has been declining there. He said the 2017 winterkill was the worst since the 1980s, but the hope is that this year’s (so-far) mild winter might mean the start of a recovery.

“The conditions on the major winter ranges around Evanston and Big Piney, LaBarge, Kemmerer are open and mild,” Fralick said. “Deer are able to disperse over the winter ranges. We’re in a good place right now at this stage in January to see at this point fairly high overwinter survival.”

Fralick said last year 100 percent of radio-collared fawns and 37 percent of radio-collared does died of malnutrition because of snow depths. But the fact that so many fawns died made life easier for the remaining does.

“Those does now were liberated from very high energetic demands of caring for a fawn. And of course, those energetic demands are primarily born in lactation and rearing the fawn through the summer and fall and bringing that fawn to winter range. And so they were able now to accumulate body fat.”

Fralick said, in March, radio-collared deer will be re-checked to see if they are pregnant and continue to have plenty of body fat.

Game and Fish will be hosting public meetings to talk about its findings on mule deer survival, starting Wednesday in Pinedale at 6 p.m. Upcoming meetings will be held in Marbleton, Kemmerer, Green River, Thayne, and Jackson. Visit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website for details.