Deer insights

Research, public input play roles in deer management

Researchers hurry to capture and place radio collars on newborn fawns because once the deer reach two or three days old, they run too fast to be caught. Monitoring fawn survival is one key to learning what is preventing some deer herds from growing.

Sometime within the next two weeks, a new generation of mule deer will start to appear.

Pregnant does typically begin dropping fawns in the final week of May and the births continue until the end of June or early July.

If all goes as planned, within a day or two of birth, many of those new fawns will be wearing radiocollars as part of several ongoing, multi-faceted research projects by Colorado Parks and Wildlife into what’s causing the general decline in mule deer numbers.

That many of those does give birth on private land could be a headache for researchers, but meetings such as the one planned for May 29 in Meeker have gone a long way to improve landowner relationships.

“The cooperation we’ve been getting from landowners has been exceptional,” Parks and Wildlife terrestrial biologist Darby Finley said in Meeker. “Everyone from landowners to hunters to private citizens are interested in mule deer and meetings like this let us give them a heads-up about what’s going on.”

The meeting, bringing together biologists, researchers, wildlife officials and the public, begins at 7 p.m. at the Mountain Valley Bank, 400 Main Street in Meeker.

Parks and Wildlife continues to be a leader in deer research and currently has a handful of mule deer studies across western Colorado.

Public outreach such as the Meeker meeting is vital because of the immense tracts of private land on which deer, elk and other wildlife depend for summer and transition habitat.

In this particular case, that region is the 600-square mile Piceance Basin, historic home to one of the country’s largest deer herds as well as one of the largest tight-formation natural gas fields in the U.S.

“Some of our stakeholders have offered their views and opinions about what needs to happen to reverse the decline” in deer numbers, Meeker Area Wildlife Manager Bill de Vergie said. “However, there is a large section of the public we have yet to hear from and we are happy to provide another opportunity for them to listen and also provide their input.”

The Meeker meeting will offer some preliminary results of ongoing studies as well as insights into how the Parks and Wildlife projects, some done in cooperation with Colorado State University, may be used to reverse the decline in deer populations.

“We have a ton of projects going on,” Finley said. “We’ll give some preliminary results of our neonatal studies and what Chuck Anderson is doing with his habitat improvement projects.”

Neonatal research entails capturing newborn fawns and fitting them with radio-collars, allowing researchers to monitor fawn survival through the first six months of life.

Another study picks up the monitoring through the fawns’ first year, offering biologists a circle of insight into a deer’s first year or more.

Anderson’s work includes mechanical treatment of dense and over-grown areas, opening these random-shaped areas in an effort to attract mule deer.

“He treated over 1,200 acres this winter in small, one to five acre parcels, hoping to get a quick response,” Finley said. “It’s a mosaic treatment, creating a lot of fingers and islands of habitat.”

Studies such as the Uncompahgre Project began in 1998 show deer are more likely to use mosaic-style areas with lots of fingers and edges that offer visual breaks and hiding lanes.

Finley also noted it’s been shown large clear-cuts aren’t as effective in attracting deer.

“They feel more comfortable with close hiding cover and in the winter they won’t go into the big openings because it takes more energy,” Finley said.

Other studies include research in the Grand Valley focusing on pipeline reclamation.

Many of the deer projects won’t be completed for several years.


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