Idaho Fish and Game managers like to speak in acronyms, and the one coming out of their mouths frequently these days is MDI.
So what does MDI stand for, and what is it all about?
MDI stands for Mule Deer Initiative. It is a multi-faceted long term project to provide better populations of mule deer across Idaho.
Today Idaho's mule deer population stands at about 300,000. Fish and Game biologists believe that is about half the population that lived here in the 1960s. The decline is similar to that of other western states. Mule deer populations are affected by various factors including loss of habitat, predators, competition with other big game animals including elk, and weather.
"There is no single reason for the decline of mule deer west-wide", state big game manager Brad Compton said, "and there is no simple, single method for ending the mule deer's troubles, but we can make things a lot better for them. This is an animal so important to hunters-and everyone else who enjoys what Idaho is-we owe mule deer the best chance we can give them."
The Mule Deer Initiative will focus on all of the problems mule deer face, many of which revolve around habitat. Mule deer habitat has been degraded, fragmented and lost because of fire management practices, invasive weeds, and development. The Department of Fish and Game will work with private landowners, providing funds that will help them restore habitat on their land. Fish and Game will also work with sportsmen's groups and volunteers to improve winter range for mule deer. The department will ask other state and federal land management agencies to help restore critical stands of aspen, sagebrush and bitterbrush.
Fish and Game will continue to monitor mule deer populations closely and use the most accurate information available to set hunting seasons. Those seasons will be designed to provide a variety of opportunities, including hunts for mature bucks. The department will work with land managers, land owners, and sportsmen to manage motorized access during hunting seasons to provide access to public lands, increase deer survival and provide opportunities to those who prefer non-motorized experiences. Fish and Game researchers and biologists will closely monitor the effect of predators on mule deer herds and reduce predator populations where appropriate. Big game managers will work to minimize competition between mule deer and elk where appropriate. Fish and Game will also work with the hunting and non-hunting public to minimize the number of deer that are lost to automobiles.
As mule deer numbers increase across Idaho under the Mule Deer Initiative it will be the goal of Fish and Game to provide more opportunity for mule deer hunters. Already Access Yes! has provided hunters and anglers in Idaho with access to hundreds of thousands of acres of privately owned land and landlocked public land. The goal is to eventually open up one million acres. In the coming months and years Fish and Game will work to ensure that a large portion of Access Yes! property is prime mule deer habitat.
Conservation Officers will crack down on people who harass mule deer in the winter and will also crack down on poachers who target mule deer, especially on winter ranges. Officers will also monitor off-road vehicle use during hunting seasons to ensure off-road vehicles are not causing problems for mule deer hunters.
One final key to the success of the Mule Deer Initiative will be communication. Fish and Game will make a concerted effort to let Idahoans know what is being done for mule deer. Fish and Game will ask Idahoans to get involved by sharing ideas or by volunteering.
Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker has directed proper members of Fish and Game's staff to put MDI at the top of their lists of priorities.
"Mule deer are an Idaho icon, and we have decided to pull the stops, end the decline, and begin rebuilding Idaho's premier species," Huffaker said "The Mule Deer Initiative is the framework for this effort. It is the department's top priority."