large-scale research project, involving multiple agencies and
universities, has started to tackle one of the most pressing needs in
wildlife management in British Columbia – how to understand and reverse
declines of mule deer in the Southern Interior. With contributions from
Indigenous people, the public, stakeholders, and industry, this project
brings together cutting-edge research on deer ecology with multiple
partnerships to advance both evidence and cooperative-based approaches
to wildlife conservation.
“Mule deer declines have been a concern in portions of the southern
interior since the 1960s, and decades of hunting regulation change have
not reversed the declines," said Jesse Zeman, Director of Fish and
Wildlife Restoration, BC Wildlife Federation.
A combination of
fire suppression, timber extraction, highways, urban sprawl and other
factors affect the movement and size of mule deer populations in the
Southern Interior of B.C. Sophie Gilbert, an Assistant Professor at the
University of Idaho and co-investigator on the project, said, "in
addition to landscape change, things like increases in competitor or
predator species may also be affecting mule deer, as we've seen in other
parts of western North America, and we want to identify which drivers
are most important in the Southern Interior.
"Mule deer are
essential for food security, Syilx (Okanagan) cultural practice and
knowledge transfer, hunter opportunity, and are a ‘canary in the coal
mine' for B.C.'s ecosystems.
“What we have
heard from Indigenous communities, ecologists, and resident hunters is
that the decline of mule deer matters to them and the status quo is no
longer sufficient," said Dr. Adam T. Ford, Assistant Professor and
Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology at the University
of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus and co-investigator on the project.
"It is time we bring more science to bear on issues affecting wildlife
The B.C. Fish and
Wildlife Branch, in collaboration with the BC Wildlife Federation,
Okanagan Nation Alliance, volunteers and researchers at the University
of British Columbia, and the University of Idaho, placed GPS tracking
collars on 64 adult female mule deer (does) in the following areas:
Kettle-Granby, Peachland/Garnet Valley, and Cache Creek/Elephant Hill
There are an additional 33 adult female mule deer collared in the Kootenay study area.
Of the 64 deer
captured in 2018, ultrasounds were used to assess pregnancy rates and
general health on 56 does greater than one year of age. The project team
found a 98 percent pregnancy rate, at least 80 percent of those does
were carrying twins. Does and their offspring (fawns) are what drive
deer population change, which is why the project is focusing on them.
The GPS collars
in the Kettle-Granby, Peachland/Garnet Valley, and Cache Creek study
areas track the deer movements every 4.25 hours and provide information
on the deers’ habitat use, how they move across the landscape, which
areas they avoid, when and how they die. When a collar is no longer
moving, a message gets sent to the project team which allows them to
investigate factors contributing to the animal’s death.
In addition to
the collars, at least 200 remote cameras will be deployed in the project
areas to provide an understanding of how other animals (predators,
prey, and people) interact with mule deer. The cameras will also provide
recruitment data (fawn survival) and sex ratios (buck: doe), and
potentially help count mule deer and other large mammals.
This fall the
group expects to place GPS collars on a minimum of 60 mule deer fawns
and will also incorporate vegetation monitoring (food availability).
To date, nearly
$300,000 in direct funding has been contributed to the project through
multiple sources including, BC Wildlife Federation Clubs and partners,
corporate donors, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, B.C. Fish and
Wildlife Branch, Ministry of Transportation, and B.C. Timber Sales. The
project has also confirmed over $500,000 of in-kind support from
collaborators, particularly project volunteers and the University of
B.C. Okanagan and University of Idaho.
"While there has
been tremendous community support, the project still requires additional
financial and in-kind support to fund the remaining four years of the
project," said Jesse Zeman. “Please go to the BC Wildlife Federation
website [bcwf.bc.ca] to make a donation and receive a tax credit
receipt, get updates, or learn about volunteer opportunities for the
project.” People can also donate directly to the Okanagan Nation