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Addressing The Decline Of Mule Deer

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Earlier this month, a panel of biologists, hunters, ranchers and government agencies convened in Daniel to discuss the reasons for the continued drop in mule deer numbers. There were once over 500,000 mule deer in Wyoming but the population has plummeted to around 375,000. Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife coordinator Daryl Lutz was at the summit and he says it will take landscape-wide thinking to stop the decline.

“It’s interesting because mule deer, for as common as they are and as used to as Wyomingites are to seeing mule deer in the wild, their management is incredibly complex. And so the solutions to this most recent decline just aren’t black and white. It’s very difficult.”

In the 70’s and 80’s, hard winters impacted mule deer numbers, but the species rebounded quickly. In the early 90’s, numbers dropped again but haven’t recovered since. Lutz says damage to habitat keep young fawns from surviving, especially droughts from climate change and energy development that blocks migration routes.

The declining numbers have led the Wyoming Game and Fish to create a special program called the Mule Deer Initiative. A pilot version of the Mule Deer Initiative has been at work in two areas of the state--the Wyoming Range and the Platte Valley--since 2007. 

The Game and Fish is now rolling out the program state-wide. Lutz says the initiative is well funded.

“The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has set aside a considerable amount of money—500-thousand dollars-to help as matching money to leverage other sources of money to do habitat work on a large scale."

The program’s goal is to get more public commitment, especially from hunters and hunting organizations, to put heft behind solving the problem.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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