Biggest study yet kicks off in Wyoming to study mule deer and elk competition.
The University of Wyoming, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and a hunter’s conservation organization have begun an expansive five-year project in November to study the effects of elk on mule deer in the southwest of the state.
The $1.4 million project will take a close look to see if competition between elk herds and mule deer are contributing to a decline in the deer numbers. Concerned wildlife officials and sportspersons have noticed a reduced numbers in mule deer and suspect it may be the elk.
The theory is that the growing number of elk are consuming more and more forage, and it is known that mule deer typically require higher quality browse that may be eaten by the elk. The last few decades have seen a rise in elk and a marked decline in mule deer populations in their traditional ranges.
Much of the funding for the project has come from the Game and Fish Department teaming up with an organization called the Muley Fanatic Foundation, an organization of deer hunters in the state.
“This isn’t just a one-shot-and-you’re-done project, this is going to be the most truth-telling research project showing what’s actually happening on the ground.” The CEO and president of Muley Fanatic Foundation, Joshua Coursey said.
While this is not the first study in the State to investigate the issue it will be the most comprehensive, looking at the effects of habitat, competition, drought conditions, predator interaction and harvesting.
“We’ve gotten glimpses and pieces,” said Kevin Monteith, a professor and lead researcher for the project from University of Wyoming, “But we have yet to put all those pieces together.”
It will take a number of years for the comprehensive study to analyze all the gathered data and provide to the public, yet it may solve a decades long question on elk and mule deer competition.