A recent deer mortality study in Wisconsin is rather telling, and not all that positive.
Launched back in 2009 as a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin scientists, a state deer research initiative recently published its latest study – on the mortality of deer herds – and it had a few surprising tales to tell.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the study tracked radio-collared deer between 2011 and 2013, recording the specimens killed during that time and cataloging them based on their general cause of death. The study was split into two deer regions – “northern forest” and “eastern farmland” – and recorded causes of deer deaths in order to observe how those causes varied depending on geographical location. While hunting was found as the leading cause of mortality for deer in both regions, other numbers varied dramatically between the north and east portions of the state.
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In the northern forest region, human hunting accounted for 43 percent of the recorded deer mortalities. The second place cause of death was starvation, with 9 percent, while illegal poaching (8 percent), coyotes (7 percent), wolves (6 percent), and vehicle collisions (also 6 percent) rounded out the notable mortality causes.
The numbers told a markedly different tale in the state’s eastern farmland region. While human hunting was still in the lead by a significant amount (with 53 percent of the survey’s mortality being attributed to licensed hunters), the other factors broke down differently.
For instance, the second most common cause of death among southern deer was vehicular collision, which accounted for 17 percent of recorded mortalities. The other causes were comparatively small, including starvation (4 percent) and coyotes (2 percent). Unlike the north, where mortality numbers showed wolves to be a major deer predator, Wisconsin researchers didn’t record a single wolf-related fatality in the state’s eastern farmland territory.
Considering the fact that Wisconsin’s eastern farmland territory has fewer natural predators and a greater prevalence of roads than the northern forestland, the state’s Department of Natural Resources might consider establishing deer management units throughout the eastern regions of the state to cut down on damaging deer-related car accidents. Northern hunters, on the other hand, are competing with a greater number of natural predators for the deer in the region, meaning that their licenses and management units may restrict their hunting more.
In addition to providing data that the DNR may use to help itself establish more effective and regionalized deer management strategies, the new mortality study also offers a rather grim bit of data regarding the growing harshness of Midwest winters.
High deer starvation numbers indicate long challenging winter seasons, and 9 or 4 percent of all recorded deer mortalities in a given region certainly is a high figure for the state of Wisconsin.
The numbers are all the more troubling seeing as Wisconsin’s eastern farmland region saw no starvation-motivated deer mortalities in either 2011 or 2012. Comparatively, high percentages of both bucks and does died due to starvation in 2013.
Considering how brutal this winter has been so far, it only stands to reason that those numbers will increase for 2014, begging the question of how we can protect our deer herds from the scourge of winter so that they are there to be hunted when fall rolls around the following year.