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Mule Deer Numbers Stable in Salmon Region

The general deer season this year in the Salmon Region will be similar to the 2006 season, the Salmon regional wildlife manager with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game predicts.

"All of the information we have collected shows that the mule deer numbers in the Salmon Region have been stable over the last five to ten years," wildlife manager Tom Keegan said. "Buck numbers are variable, with same places above objectives and others a little below."

Wildlife biologists collect information about deer herds by counting animals from helicopters. For many years there have been flights in a few key areas in both early and late winter.

In early winter, biologists count the number of fawns for every hundred does as well as the percentage of bucks left after hunting season. The late winter flights determine how many fawns survived the winter.

The Salmon Region has the lowest mule deer fawn survival rate in the state. Unfortunately, fawn survival can't be increased by changing hunting seasons.

"Mule deer numbers depend on how much habitat they have," Keegan said. "Deer need much higher nutrition than elk do."

The long, cold winters in the Salmon Region mean that mule deer have to eat even more in a short period of time. The more fat a mule deer has in the fall, the more likely it will survive the winter.

Unlike elk, mule deer can't live on grass. Mule deer are browsers; they depend on shrubs, such as sagebrush and bitterbrush, for their diet. They also need healthy aspen stands for fawn habitat.

A healthy aspen stand has lots of green plants underneath, including young aspens. Aspen stands provide cover and shade for the fawns. The broad-leaved plants also offer much-needed nourishment for the does.

Mule deer have lost habitat all over the West, and central Idaho is no exception. Farming, ranching, housing developments, hotter fires, forest encroachment, and long-term drought have all reduced shrub habitat.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans public meetings around the state in the next few months to discuss changes in mule deer management.

There is some good news for deer hunters in the Salmon Region. Keegan pointed out that while the recent forest fires mean a short term decline in some mule deer habitat, shrubs will increase as the areas recover.

"And we still have some of the best mule deer hunter success rates in the state," he said.