Wildlife Conservation - Deer & Elk Research in Wyoming - Lake Harding Association

Wildlife Conservation – Deer & Elk Research in Wyoming

By Micah Moen 0 Comment February 21, 2020


This is what a deer sounds like. We can’t understand that, so that’s why
we use other methods to understand the species. To answer our questions about wildlife, biologists
are relying more and more on technology to more precisely answer our biggest questions. Going into the field and physically observing
deer–that means watching them with our eyes on the landscape– has helped us answer questions
in the past, but technology, like a satellite-linked GPS collar on an animal, helps us discover
new information with a level of detail that we couldn’t gather through physical observation
alone. There are always more questions we can ask,
and as any three-year-old can attest, it’s important to know, “Why?” Collars allow us to continuously get data
without additional human presence that could disturb the deer, and potentially affect our
ability to understand their natural behavior. We collar a variety of wildlife, from grizzly
bears to pronghorn. Wildlife collars tell the stories of what
species need to thrive. The collars might remind you of a fitness
watch that people wear to track their steps, but with one obvious difference: their size. The size of the collar is primarily due to
a larger battery that lasts longer and minimizes the number of times we need to capture the
deer. You may charge your fitness watch’s battery
every night, but the battery in the GPS collar typically needs to last over a year. At one to two pounds for the average weight
of a satellite GPS collar, the collar for the deer could be compared to you carrying
a 32 ounce water bottle on a hike. The collars are designed to fit snugly so
they don’t shift or get caught on anything as the animal moves throughout its day. Depending on the collar, they either expand,
fall off after the animal reaches a certain size, or are programmed to fall off just before
the battery dies so we can replace the battery and use the collar on another animal. GPS collars played a key role in showing just
how far Mule Deer travel seasonally, or migrate, in western Wyoming. We could see that the deer were migrating,
but we still had more questions. Collars helped us understand that the Sublette
mule deer herd migrates nearly 160 miles and their route is fairly defined year after year. Data from GPS collars illustrates the most
effective places to install wildlife friendly fencing, build wildlife overpasses, and make
other enhancements to make it easier for deer to complete their annual migration. Recently, in the Deer and Elk Ecological Research,
or D.E.E.R. project with the Wyoming CO-OP Unit, deer and elk were captured and collared
to begin a study to look at both deer populations and the elk populations in one system, and
to be able to understand the dynamics at play between those two large herbivores. The study will help us learn more about competition
and predation between deer and elk in southwest Wyoming. After the animals are captured we weigh them,
take a blood sample, take a tooth sample to get an exact age, record body measurements,
and use ultrasound to asses nutritional condition. While it’s still too early in the study
to make any final conclusions, one thing is certain —the level of detail we’re able
to see after analyzing the GPS collar data shows population level trends with a level
of precision unavailable through other methods. As technology develops we’re able to gather
new information to help us understand and assist wildlife in ways that were previously
not possible. The next time you see a collared deer, know
that it’s a small piece of the bigger picture biologists analyze, helping us discover answers
to important questions about wildlife populations.

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