Satellite research could help officials better understand mule deer habitat.
Utah State University professor David Stoner has been using NASA technology to survey mule deer habitat by satellite. The focus of the study is to better understand the relationship between mule deer birth cycle and condition of the vegetation.
Researchers working with Dr. Stoner have used the space technology to make some important observations. The team concluded mule deer doe coordinate their birthing cycle with a region's peak vegetation period. This is important since mule deer typically live in marginal areas where vegetation can be spotty. This coordination gives a doe the best chance of raising her fawn through the first year.
Another finding of the study was that mule deer in the northern region of their study gave birth earlier in the year than deer in southern regions. This study focused on mule deer in Utah and Arizona. This difference was attributed to vegetation's dependence on spring snowmelt in the north, and on late summer rains in the south.
NASA satellites are able to measure the condition of the vegetation by the "greeness" of the region. High tech satellite sensors can measure infrared rays reflected by a region's vegetation. Higher the amounts of reflection indicate healthier vegetation in the region.
By using this technology researches hope wildlife officials can better predict and track mule deer births.
"We had never tracked the deer population this way, and we had never been able to predict it with such precision," said Stoner. "We can estimate the start and peak of the season using satellite imagery, and then we can map and predict when the deer are giving birth."
Much has been made recently about the dwindling mule deer populations in the west. Some regions have experienced declines of over 70 percent. Many factors are likely to contribute to this decline, but solving the equation has been difficult.
Certain states, like Wyoming, are taking a straightforward approach to stabilizing their mule deer herds. Wyoming has created a booklet for interested parties in how to develop prime mule deer habitat. Much of the focus rests on forage development, but the information delves into other factors like predator management as well.
New satellite technology and grassroots habitat management may hold the key to saving one of the West's most iconic species.