FAIRBANKS - Interior residents are reporting varieties of wildlife that are new to the region, including mule deer, mountain lions and whitetail deer.
The most recent mule deer sighting came last week when woodsman Bur Lydic told the Alaska Department of Fish and Game he saw a young male mule deer standing in a ditch along the Alaska Highway.
"I got to look at it long enough that it turned and walked away from me and I saw the mule deer tail," Lydic said.
Longtime state wildlife biologist Steve DuBois says he has received reports of several mule deer sightings in the Delta Junction area over the years.
"We've had mule deer sightings in the area ever since I've been in Delta," said DuBois. "It's unusual but not unprecedented."
Mule deer have been reported from Chena Hot Springs Road to Salcha to Tenderfoot Mountain to the Delta agriculture project to Dry Creek, about eight miles north of Dot Lake, the same area where Lydic saw one on Aug. 1.
Lydic recalled finding mule deer tracks on the Salcha Ski Trails sometime in the 1980s. He tried to track the animal but never saw it.
"I even took some scat in to Fish and Game," he said.
The mule deer seen in Alaska likely come from the Yukon Territory, where there is an established population around Whitehorse, scientists said.
Biologists don't know how many mule deer there are in the Yukon but there are indications the population is on the rise, said Yukon wildlife biologist Rick Farnell. A survey a few years ago around Whitehorse turned 200 deer.
"We had no idea there were that many," Farnell said.
Mule deer are protected in the Yukon and there is no hunting for them, though that could change if the population keeps growing, Farnell said.
The fact that mule deer have not established themselves in the Interior points to a possible lack of winter food. Scientists think the deep snows make it hard for mule deer to forage.
Mule deer are not the only invasive game animal reported in the eastern Interior.
There also have been a handful of whitetail deer sightings around Whitehorse and two have been killed on the road, confirming their presence in the Yukon, Farnell said.
And biologists have heard about several mountain lion sightings in Tok and Delta Junction, though none have been confirmed.
According to the reports, mountain lions have been spotted on top of Donnelly Dome, on Clearwater Road, and in the Delta agriculture project, and one was glimpsed near Dot Lake between Delta and Tok.
The large cats were suspected, but never confirmed, in the Yukon until four years ago, when a dead mountain lion was found in an abandoned vehicle in Watson Lake, 300 miles south of Whitehorse.
The emaciated cougar evidently climbed into the vehicle and starved to death, Farnell said.
Prior to the finding, cougar sightings in the Yukon were "treated like Sasquatch sightings," he said.
Now, mountain lions are listed as an indigenous species in the Yukon. Firefighters battling a fire near Eagle last year reported seeing a mountain lion near Eagle Creek, Lydic said.
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