DZ students survey Douglas deer population

Preliminary figures may mean bad news for hunters this season

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2007

If the students from the Shooting Start House at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School are correct, deer hunters hoping to fill tags on Douglas Island are going to have trouble doing so this season.

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The students recently conducted a biological survey that ran transect lines through the island's forest and muskeg, sampling deer habitat at different elevations along Fish Creek Road in an effort to determine the island's deer population.

"There's not much there," eighth-grader Cristiain Crabtree said.

Based on deer pellets found in the eight survey plots, she and fellow student scientists say hunters probably will not find many deer on the island.

Their conclusion is preliminary, of course.

The idea for the class project developed after reading media reports about the mortality rate in the deer population as a result of last year's record snowfall, said Dave Kovach, a Dzantik'i Heeni science teacher.

To gather the needed data, 140 students spread out to survey 5,760 square meters in eight survey sites within three elevation zones. They were looking for deer pellets within site-selected habitat.

Kovach said the data gathered would set a base line for a second population survey next spring and for future classwork with new students.

"I think the Fish and Game might use the data," eighth-grader Gab-riella Worden said.

Worden believes that her schoolwork could be useful to hunters. The upper site she surveyed didn't show much evidence of deer herds. Worden, however, heard the lower plots "found a bunch" of evidence.

"We don't know a lot about the deer population on Douglas Island," said Ryan Scott, an assistant area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The state has no pellet survey data from the Fish Creek drainage, and Scott said the middle school science project could be useful to his agency.

Several limiting factors of public education do not allow the student's work to reach professional scientific standards. But Dzantik'i Heeni science teacher Jay Watts described his students as good researchers regardless.

"They were scientists," he said. "They did what a real biologist does."

Juneau hunter Kristan Stephen thinks the students are right about the deer population on Douglas.

"It's a hard hunt," he said.

Stephen said the island's deer population suffers a huge amount of pressure from easy road access and relatively calm water access during the often stormy hunting season.

Deer that made it through last winter and hunting season are skittish and gun-shy, unlike the deer in Hoonah and on Admiralty Island, just across the Stephens Passage from Douglas.

If deer are found on Douglas Island, a hunter barely has time to flip the covers of his scope before the animal is gone, he said.

Though hard to find, there are deer on Douglas Island.

Between 800 and 950 deer hunters use Area 1C each year. That's mostly Douglas Island, Scott said. Under that kind of pressure, the island yields between 241 and 474 animals to the harvest he said.

Data from this year's hunting season might be added to the population work done by the students, but will not be available until spring, Scott said.

Fish and Game's timing matches the students from the Shooting Star House. Kovach said they expect to crunch data during the winter months and hope to have a population estimate by spring.

Eighth-grader James Buckoski, already knows that deer are in the Fish Creek study area. He conducted a "follow-up survey" a few days after his class visited the island for school.

"I killed a healthy two-point buck," Buckoski said. "It dressed out at 140-pounds."

Buckoski was hesitant to say which location yielded such results. The young hunter and science student would only say, "On a high ridge near Mount Anderson."

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or

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