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State launches new mule deer project to better understand declining population 

Mule deer standing in sage brush.
pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain

In the last 30 years, mule deer populations in Wyoming have declined significantly, so the state is launching a new project to try to better understand why.

Since the early 90s, the state has lost about 250,000 mule deer. Although population numbers from 30 years ago are now recognized as unsustainable, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD) is concerned about just how low the numbers are now.

“Environmental factors such as weather, habitat and Chronic Wasting Disease affect Wyoming's mule deer populations,” said Breanna Ball, WGFD statewide information specialist.

Ball said the agency is launching a five-year Mule Deer Monitoring project. The goal is to understand why populations are declining.

Studying mule deer is not new for the department. But, it says it now has the funds and better technology to ramp up its observations. This means counting herd populations eight times a year, instead of once, and studying the day-to-day lives by collaring 1,000 deer – more than ever before. The Game and Fish Commission funded the project with $2.5 million this year.

The study will specifically focus on five herds in the Laramie Mountains, Wyoming Range, Shoshone National Forest, Big Horns and north east of Rock Springs.

“These herds have been historically under-studied,” Ball said. “Looking at these various herds will allow better understanding of how the herds react to ecological differences, such as rainfall, plants, predators and chronic wasting disease prevalence.”

Ball added that the results of the study will help shape future management decisions.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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