After a winter that saw more than twice the usual snowpack to the Wyoming Range, more bad news surrounding the population of mule deer in the western United States has surfaced.
On the heels of news that Idaho’s mule deer fawn survival rate is at it’s lowest levels in 18 years, fawns tracked by the co-operative Wyoming Mule Deer Project are experiencing an even worse fate. While Idaho’s collared fawns are denoting a 50 percent mortality rate this year, fawns in Wyoming’s study area have nearly all but vanished.
The population of fawns monitored jointly by the Wyoming Fish and Game Department and the University of Wyoming was cut by about half during the summer and fall months, well before the onset of winter. What remained was 26 fawns and of those remaining fawns, only one has survived, at least for now.
“All of those fawns are now gone,” Game and Fish wildlife biologist Gary Fralick said at the agency’s annual season-setting meeting Tuesday night. “We’re projecting 100 percent fawn loss of our research animals this year.”
These numbers reflect only a select sampling of the region’s mule deer fawns, but Fralick and other researchers are expecting a similar trend across the entire range. Biologists will be busy over the coming months monitoring deer in the region, projecting an estimated survival rate of one in four fawns.
While winter mortality is a natural occurrence, it has been decades since mortality rates were recorded in excess of 70 percent.
As winter mortality research continues, state wildlife managers are already planning on slight reductions in non-resident mule deer licenses. Pronghorn antelope were also hit hard this winter and as such, will also enjoy a reduction of available non-resident licenses.
Additionally, a proposal has been tabled that would reduce the hunting season in western Wyoming by four days. The four-day reduction is slated for the end of the deer hunting seasons, a period in which snowfall is often recorded, leaving mule deer and other ungulates in an extremely vulnerable state.