Strong Volunteer Effort For Fawn Survivability Study

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Thanks to the help of about 30 local volunteers, IDFG was able to add another chapter to its ongoing study of fawn survivability in Idaho. Volunteers of all ages showed up near Marsh Creek in Unit 50 on Saturday, January 5th, to help Department personnel trap deer.

The volunteers helped to process mule deer as part of the newest addition to the fawn survivability study has been going on within the Southern Regions of the State for the last four years. The trapping phase of the project involves the use of a leased helicopter to "drive" does and fawns into nets strung across the hillsides. Once trapped, volunteers are used to "mug" the deer, helping to keep it immobilized while biologists work on the animals. Once blood samples have been drawn and radio collars attached, the animals are released unharmed. Every year there is some concern voiced about the impact of stress on the animals, but trapping related mortality has been nearly nonexistent throughout the duration of the study.

Trapping conditions at the Unit 50 site were excellent and a total of 42 mule deer were trapped with the aid of community members. Trapping efforts near Heise on the South Fork of Snake River the week prior were less ideal and it took two days to capture 33 animals with the aid of about 40 individuals. Of the 42 deer trapped at Marsh Creek, 24 were fawns and 17 were does, and one yearly buck was also incidentally trapped. All of the fawns and does received radio collars so that in addition to mortality, seasonal movement could also be monitored and plotted.

In an effort to compare the condition animals enter the winter, all fawns were weighed on site using a hanging sling scale. The average weight of fawns at Marsh Creek was 69.2 lbs., at Heise this year the average weight of fawns was 79.96 lbs., compared with an average weight of 77.81 lbs. last year. Biologist will be watching to see what correlation can be made between the weight of young animals versus winter survival.

The monitoring phase of the project takes over once trapping is complete and continues until spring green-up. The point of the project is to track the survivability of the fawns throughout the winter and monitor how, when, and why they die. Staff, along with volunteers monitor radio signals on a daily basis from the deer and then track down any deer that begin to send out mortality signals from their radio collars. The collar is retrieved and the cause of death determined and plugged into the study data.

The information from this initial phase of the study is being presented to the Idaho Fish & Game Commission at their meeting in Boise later this week.