Blacktails on the rebound

Posted: Friday, July 30, 2010

Spring was good to local deer, which may mean good things for hunters this season.

Courtesy Of Jamie Paulk
Courtesy Of Jamie Paulk

That's according to state Department of Fish and Game Area Biologists Phil Mooney and Ryan Scott who said the early green-up in the region was a welcome relief for the Sitka blacktail deer population.

This is also positive news for hunters who will be heading out into the hills when this year's buck hunting season opens locally Sunday. Doe season begins Sept. 15.

Mooney keeps tabs on the deer in hunting Unit 4, which includes Admiralty, Chichagof and Baranof Islands.

"During traditional boat surveys done this spring, things were looking up," Mooney said. "East Admiralty and south Baranof Islands were better than we've seen in the last couple years. A lot of that is due to a more normal winter."

The last three winters sent the local deer population into a tailspin that concerned area biologists, who last year instigated an emergency doe closure in the area of northeast Chichagof Island.

Mooney said he does anticipate a similar closure again this year for that area in an effort to continue their overall strategy of keeping the does in check.

"We're on a five-year program, and right now we're on year four," he said. "People (have been) seeing a lot of deer, but we need to get the female portion of the population up so if we get another bad winter, we don't shoot ourselves in the foot."

Scott, whose Unit 1C oversight area includes much of the Juneau area, echoed a similar story.

"People have described seeing a lot of young deer and a lot of does with fawns," he said. "Based on anecdotal information, I think (hunters) will see a lot of deer right now, and they'll experience as much success, if not more, than last year."

The upswing this year, Mooney said, is a result of high snow levels and a winter and spring that was much milder than in past years. This allowed the deer to take advantage of early, young plant growth on the beaches and low forested areas where vegetation is plentiful. Essentially, the deer were just less stressed. He said this, in turn, leads to more does carrying fawns to term, higher birth weights and a higher survival rate.

But Mother Nature can be hard on bucks, too. Scott said both young and mature male deer can succumb to the elements and are especially vulnerable during the rut season, when their focus is narrowed.

"If you get bad weather during rut time, that compounds all the other stresses," Scott said. "It can be pretty rough on them."

Another indicator the local deer population is not quite recovered is the unusual abundance of goldenthread, an evergreen perennial that grows in moist, middle to low elevations, and a favorite food of the Sitka blacktail. Mooney said the ungulates relish this plant and when populations are up, it's often hard to find. That's not the case this year.

"We've got patches of it all over," he said. "It's a great indicator that the numbers are down."

"Right now we have lots of summer food, we don't need warm, just normal weather, where deer can move around, good green-up to provide more food for fawns."

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