Managing Mule Deer

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Monitoring and managing Idaho's mule deer is a challenging job.

Year round, Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game (IDFG) biologists work with dozens of U. S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) biologists to manage mule deer winter and summer range.

Aspen, bitterbrush, juniper, forbs, and sagebrush, are key components of mule deer habitat, and the condition of these plants is the key ingredient determining the health of the herds.

Weather conditions, precipitation, and land use practices determine the quality of habitat for the mule deer. In an effort to understand mule deer, population trends, herd composition, habitat, and sportsmen's desires, the Fish and Game works with both the public and governmental agencies to improve mule deer herds across Idaho.

Here's a list of recent and ongoing mule deer management activities in the Magic Valley Region:

Bitterbrush Planting - More than 4,000 bitterbrush seedlings have been planted each spring for about 10 years in the Unit 54 (South Hills) deer winter ranges. The program has been a cooperative effort with the BLM, IDFG, Idaho State Bowhunters and Mule Deer Foundation. This year, members of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife joined the effort.

Juniper Management - The Malad BLM has hand-cut "encroaching" junipers from 1,600 acres of crucial winter range in Unit 56 (Sublett area). These were mostly two to six foot junipers. Hand cutting was necessary to protect the sagebrush in the understory.

One of the more important deer winter ranges in the region is located in Unit 57 (Black Pine) and managed by the USFS. Junipers have increased in density and distribution over the past 30 years on these winter ranges. The IDFG is currently working with the USFS on planning a project to thin several juniper stands in the area.

The Burley BLM recently completed a vegetation management plan for Unit 55 (Jim Sage Mountain) that includes crucial winter range for about 1,000 deer. On winter ranges, the goal will be to increase sagebrush and native grasses and forbs while judiciously removing juniper from some areas where it has increased in density and distribution. The projects will be closely coordinated with IDFG.

Winter Range mapping - Wildlife biologists in the Magic Valley Region have generated computerized maps of all winter ranges in the region. These maps are being used extensively to comment on state, federal agency land use projects, and county planning and zoning activities.

Public Presentations/Communication - Through the year IDFG employees give dozens of presentation to sportsmen's groups, community leaders, teachers, students and the general public on issues pertaining to mule deer in the Magic Valley Region.

Access Management - In 2003, at the request of the IDFG, the USFS re-implemented road closures in Unit 54 that create a 35 sq. mi. area of non-motorized hunting opportunity in this highly roaded and open country.

Hunter Opinion Sampling - The IDFG sent out 320 questionnaires to deer hunters who drew permits to hunt Unit 45 (Bennett Hills) in 2002 and 2003. The goal is to determine their satisfaction with the hunt, find out what things detracted or added to their hunt, and develop objectives and strategies designed to better manage this unique trophy opportunity.

Aspen Regeneration - The Boise National Forest, with support from the IDFG, has been conducting prescribed burning in the Lime Creek drainage of Units 43 and 44 (South Fork Boise and Fairfield areas) the past the two years, to regenerate aspen communities and improve habitat.

Fire Rehabilitation - BLM fire rehabilitation efforts now routinely include sagebrush and forbs in seed mixes. Ten years ago, seeding sagebrush was rare and forb reseeding was pretty much limited to alfalfa.

Cheatgrass Rehabilitation - The Shoshone BLM Field Office has rehabilitated more than 30,000 acres of cheatgrass dominated habitat on mule deer winter range to native (or native-like) plants during the past two years in hunting Unit 52A (Dietrich).

Sagebrush Emphasis - The current emphasis on sage grouse and sagebrush has had and will have benefits to mule deer. More than 1 million acres of sagebrush habitat has been lost in the region during the past decade. Local Working Groups and Interagency Teams are promoting the maintenance and recovery of healthy sagebrush communities.

Hunting Seasons - IDFG has made changes in Unit 56 to help redistribute hunters in southeast Idaho and reduce congestion, etc.. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, when deer numbers were high (and controlled hunt permit levels were high), the Magic Valley Region was an "importer" of deer hunters. Today the Magic Valley Region probably "exports" hunters because controlled hunt permit levels have not kept pace with the increased hunting population. This is a major issue biologists started to address in 2003 in Unit 56.

Access Yes - In the Magic Valley Region, more than 90,000 acres of private land was enrolled into this program that compensates landowners for public access. Much of the acreage provides access for deer hunting.

Technical Assistance - IDFG continually works with federal agencies and local governments to provide comments on projects that impact deer habitat.

Mule Deer Survival - Ongoing radio-telemetry projects in Unit 54 monitor fawn and mule deer buck survival. Twenty-five fawns and five to 10 bucks have been radio collared and monitored annually for six years to look at movements, winter survival rates, and hunting season survival.