Although a five-year cycle figure may reveal more information, concern continues to mount over the decline in mule deer numbers and biologists can’t seem to put a finger on the cause.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has completed the second year of an annual mule deer survey in portions of the Pine Ridge management unit in northwestern Nebraska.
On Feb. 6-9, Commission employees used a contracted helicopter to repeat the 2014 mule deer survey. Commission staff counted 758 deer in 429 square miles of the unit compared to 862 in the same areas in 2014. The data will be compared to mule deer numbers in other areas of the state to assess long-term trends.
Lower counts in 2015 may be attributable to less snow cover during the survey period, which makes spotting animals more challenging, said Todd Nordeen, a big game manager for the Commission. The data will be more telling when the survey completes its scheduled five-year cycle, he said.
The mule deer population has been a concern in the Pine Ridge and other areas of the American West experiencing declines despite quality habitat and harvest restrictions.
The survey is helping determine how the mule deer population responds to the prohibition of harvest of females, and is helping the Commission’s goal of providing optimum hunting opportunities within the limits of the deer population and landowner tolerance. Since 2013, the Game and Parks Commission has prohibited mule deer doe harvest in the Pine Ridge unit to bolster the population.
Watch the video to see how the survey was conducted: