mule deer

USDA photo by Scott Bauer

A great deal of research is happening right now on why mule deer populations are declining so fast in the state… and now the University of Wyoming and Wyoming Game and Fish are offering a week-long Tweet Event to let the public participate in the capture and collaring of mule deer. 

A conservation group hopes to raise $2 million in three months to buy a critical piece of property along Wyoming’s mule deer migration route. At 150 miles, it’s believed to be the longest mule deer migration route in the world. Luke Lynch is with the Conservation Fund, the group raising money to buy the 364 acres, which creates a kind of migration-bridge for the deer to cross between Fremont Lake and the city of Pinedale. As many as 5,000 deer must cross the bottleneck single file there. Lynch says such routes need to be preserved because they’re so rare.

Earlier this month, a panel of biologists, hunters, ranchers and government agencies convened in Daniel to discuss the reasons for the continued drop in mule deer numbers. There were once over 500,000 mule deer in Wyoming but the population has plummeted to around 375,000. Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife coordinator Daryl Lutz was at the summit and he says it will take landscape-wide thinking to stop the decline.

A mule deer migration route between the Red Desert and Hoback may present unique challenges to agencies and landowners.

The route is used twice a year by up to 5-thousand migrating deer. Hall Sawyer, a research biologist with Western Ecosystem Technologies says the discovery is a big one.

Joe Riis

Scientists in Wyoming have recently discovered the longest mule deer migration route that’s ever been recorded. The animals travel 150 miles, from the Red Desert to the Hoback Basin. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Hall Sawyer and Joe Riis, who have been documenting the migration. Sawyer is a research biologist at Western Ecosystems Technology,  and Riis is a wildlife photographer. Sawyer says he discovered the migration route kind of by accident.

Joe Riis

Wyoming has some of the longest wildlife migration routes in the U.S. Animals travel in some cases over 100 miles from summer ranges to winter habitats. Protecting the migration routes is important for maintaining healthy populations. But land managers and other decision makers often don’t actually know where the animals travel. Now, scientists are tracking their routes. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

(Sound of deer walking along streambed)

Conservationists are relieved that migrating animals are using the recently-built overpasses on U-S Highway 191 near Pinedale. The highway cuts across major wildlife migration routes, and vehicle collisions with animals have been a problem in the area for years.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation finished six underpasses and two overpasses for the wildlife last year, inspired by similar structures in Banff National Park. They were the first ever built for pronghorn antelope, which can't jump roadside fences, and they avoid enclosed spaces. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has received $50,000 from the Mule Deer Foundation to help with mule deer habitat improvements in the Platte Valley.

Mule deer numbers in the Platte Valley have been declining for decades, and Tom Ryder with Game and Fish says one of the reasons is that their habitat has deteriorated. That’s due to human development, fire management practices, and other factors.

Ryder says they’re considering a wide range of habitat improvement projects.

Park officials don’t normally send out press releases upon the natural death of a wild animal. But this case was different. The buck mule deer with the unusually branched forty-inch antlers had become a visitor favorite, the subject of photos and even some YouTube videos.But over the last couple of weeks, rangers began monitoring his limp. Soon after, the buck bedded down and died.

Mule deer have been dying off in parts of Wyoming for some time. But until recently, it was unclear how acute the problem was. That’s because the Game and Fish Department wasn’t getting an accurate count of how many deer there were. Now, the agency is trying out a new method for estimating deer populations. It’s much more expensive … but officials say it’s worth the cost because it will help them maintain a healthy deer population. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

It’s tough to say exactly how fast the mule deer population in the Platte Valley is declining. But we know it IS declining – and whatever the rate, it’s substantial. One of the reasons the animals are dying off is that their habitat is deteriorating. So now, the Game and Fish Department is trying to come up with a plan for restoring it.  Tom Ryder, assistant chief of the wildlife division at Game and Fish speaks with Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden.

Willow Belden

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Mule deer have been dying off in parts of Wyoming for some time. But until recently, it was unclear how acute the problem was. That’s because the Game and Fish Department wasn’t getting an accurate count of how many deer there were. Now, the agency is trying out a new method for estimating deer populations. It’s much more expensive … but officials say it’s worth the cost because it will help them maintain a healthy deer population. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

The Game and Fish Department has drawn up a new management plan for mule deer in the Platte Valley. The herd there has been declining for some time, and the management plan is aimed at reversing that trend.

 

The plan includes measures to limit mule deer hunting, improve the animals’ habitat and curb predation by bears and lions.

 

Regional Wildlife Supervisor Rick King says currently, an unlimited number of mule deer licenses can be sold.

 

Researchers hope to determine how much development mule deer can tolerate on their migration routes.

Biologist Hall Sawyer found in a recent study that when mule deer travel between their summer and winter ranges, they spend 95 percent of their time stopping and eating.

“If we consider these migration routes highways, the stopovers would be like the hotels, where you crash in for the night and grab a bite to eat,” Sawyer said. “And maybe you stay there for a night, maybe you stay for a week.”

The Game and Fish Department is coming up with a new management plan for mule deer in the Platte Valley.

The mule deer population has declined by at least 30 percent over the past few decades, and last fall, Game and Fish solicited input from the public about how to address the problem.

Wildlife officials in western Wyoming are looking to the public for help protecting mule deer as they migrate
to their winter ranges.   Deer from Wyoming's two largest herds - the Sublette and Wyoming
Range herds - are migrating to the area around Pinedale, Big Piney and LaBarge for the winter. As the thousands of animals move, trophy mule deer can more easily be seen than in the backcountry,
making them tempting to poachers.