Surveys conducted post-hunting season
Winter and spring data informs regulation and management
Seven trend areas were surveyed post-hunting season by wildlife biologists with Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks (FWP). Information from these surveys was used to produce doe to buck ratios and additionally informs regulations and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) management.
Both in the Tobacco Roots and Snowcrest Trend Areas, deer remained scattered. In the Tobacco Roots deer were found in low-elevation foothills and also at 8,000 feet. Surveyors went out of the typical winter range for deer in Snowcrest to get a better sample size. Deer were found at 9,000 feet on the Gravelly and Snowcrest side of the Ruby Watershed. Spring and winter surveys are conducted differently to result in distinct information from each survey.
“During the post-hunting season, which is in that early to mid-winter just after hunting season, we’re conducting these aerial surveys and the goal is to look at enough deer to get a sample of the population that we classify as bucks, does or fawns to tell us with a lot of confidence the ratio of the sex and age classes within the population,” Dean Waltee, wildlife biologist with FWP, said. Winter surveys are more about population health, looking at fawns produced per doe and the number of bucks that survived the hunting season. Spring is focused on information about population trends. As the grass starts to turn green, surveys will be conducted to get population trend data on mule deer post-winter and hunting, times of the year with the highest mortality rates. In the spring, mule deer come out of a starvation period and congregate around the first patches of grass. Biologists are able to see whether the population has increased, decreased or stayed the same. In terms of regulation, big changes are not anticipated locally. “I have one relatively minor change I’ve recommended for elk,” Waltee said.
This involves elk in District 333, the north side of the Tobacco Roots. The number of elk there continues to grow above management objectives. Waltee proposed creating a second hunting license, an elk B license, with a large quota and getting it to hunters who frequent the area. It would only be valid out of National Forest land, where population is the highest. The final decision on this proposition will be made in February. After Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) entered Montana, Waltee mentioned considering an increase in antler-less harvest for white tailed deer, looking for more samples to gain a better perspective of the scope and prevalence of the disease. Two white tail bucks have tested positive for CWD in the Ruby Valley so far. One potential sample came back negative from a deer in Beaverhead County. FWP continues to look for symptomatic deer, using information gathered from samples to indicate the spread of CWD and make management decisions based on this information.