Long-term whitetail study should yield valuable results

A planned nine-year study, begun in 2009 and being undertaken by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with the Carnivore Ecology Laboratory at the Forest and Wildlife Research Center at Mississippi State University, is welcomed and should provide a great deal of extremely valuable information on deer populations in the Upper Peninsula.

In the mid-1990s, the U.P. experienced two back-to-back record snowfall winters, which dramatically impacted the region’s deer herd. The ongoing DNR-Mississippi State study is part of a subsequent effort to try to determine why the deer population has not rebounded as successfully as was expected after those severe seasons.

“The study is designed to examine the role of winter weather, habitat and predation on fawn survival across an environmental gradient in the Upper Peninsula,” said Dean Beyer, Jr., a wildlife research biologist with the DNR in Marquette. “Because winter conditions can have strong direct and indirect effects on a deer population, we chose to work across the gradient of snowfall.”

Researchers hope to complete the study over three general snow depth areas, moving from low snowfall to medium and high snowfall parts of the region. The study is currently analyzing the mid-level snow zone.

A significant portion of the study involves capturing female deer, fawns and predators including black bears, coyotes, gray wolves and bobcats.

Does are fitted with radio collars and vaginal radio transmitters, which let researchers know when a deer gives birth.

Researchers then quickly find the fawns and place transmitters on them, monitoring their activity, especially over the first three months of their lives.

If the fawns die or are killed, researchers work to determine what caused the mortality. Predators are also monitored after capture to determine where they might be clustering. Researchers want to know how many deer are killed by predators.

Beyer said it’s too early to make meaningful comparisons between the low and mid snowfall zones, with only one complete season logged in the middle zone. But we think the results will be worth the wait.

This type of study is not often undertaken in the U.P. and we are glad it’s taking place. The research should ultimately help determine which factors, or combination of factors, most influences survival of deer in the U.P., an issue near and dear to the hearts of not only hunters, but all those who appreciate the wildlife resources found so close outside our doors.