Not much is known about the migratory patterns of mule deer who inhabit Washington state, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
However, a recent federal grant awarded to the state agency will help to fund a project which aims to research the species’ migratory patterns across a large swath of land during the winter, including a wide portion of Klickitat County, just east of White Salmon.
“There is so much information we don’t know about mule deer in the county … this will help to gather basic knowledge about them,” said WDFW wildlife biologist Stephanie Bergh.
By deploying 100 radio collars on one of the herds who inhabit the region, officials will be able to acquire such basic knowledge including information about the species’ migration corridors and winter stopover areas, and would also give the agency information about the species’ survivability, especially how it relates to recent energy developments materializing around the area.
WDFW have cited the mule deer as a research priority in the agency’s action plan due to the lack of information available about this subset of the state’s wildlife stock as well as the abundance of the species throughout multiple distinct ecoregions throughout the state. The growing human population, as well as human development and recent wildfires are cited in the agency’s report as factors that complicate their management of the game population.
The project is not yet underway – Bergh said the agency is still developing the plans to initiate it and that the project will start early next year to track movement during the winter. The funding comes from a major program through the Department of Interior, S.O. 3362, to support scientific research of migration corridors and winter ranges and habitat conservation for big game species.
The program has provided $22 million for various projects in Western states, including Idaho, Utah and New Mexico since the program’s inception in 2018. Across the river, some of that money is going towards constructing a wildlife underpass south of Bend on Highway 97.
A parallel project, which is supported through a round of grant awards in 2018 on behalf of S.O. 3362, is currently underway up north in Chelan and Kittitas Counties, according to Bergh. Analysis of the data gathered will be undertaken closer to the summer. What the agency hopes for in terms of data with that current project is identical to what they are looking for with the project occurring in Klickitat County.
Bergh said the information gathered should give officials pathways to better conserve deer populations and their habitats. It would also help identify potential collaborators for land management.
“Deer, or wildlife in general I think are really important here in terms of hunting and wildlife viewing,” Bergh said. She said mule deer specifically are a popular species for hunters and outdoor recreation enthusiasts who travel from across the state to spectate the game.
“County residents, especially those who like to recreate here, will benefit from this,” Bergh said, pointing out that outdoor recreation is a major factor for local economies during hunting season.
The agency’s action plan notes that limited research has been recorded in recent years as it relates to mule deer. From 2000 to 2007, the agency conducted research on the survivability and nutrition of mule deer herds of four of the seven mule deer management zones in the state, but the data gathered had been deemed insufficient for modern spatial analyses. A second research project in 2016 focused on collecting data required for such analyses in one zone, but the action plan notes that more work remains to be done in all other mule deer management zones.
WDFW, in its action plan, estimated a cost of $300,000 for the research.
Of the recently funded projects, a Department of Interior press release noted, eight focus on mule deer, six on elk, and five on pronghorn.