“This mule deer research project is an excellent example of local people volunteering their time to take an active role in the management of their local mule deer herd,” Mong said. “Four years, many partnerships with governmental and non-governmental organizations, and some forty volunteers later, we are both proud and ecstatic to report that we have captured 198 mule deer so far. Over these past four years, as a team, we were able to place neck collars, ear tags and or PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags on deer to collect as much data as possible to better manage the Baggs mule deer herd. I can’t emphasize enough how thankful we are for all of the help and support of everyone who assisted in this project.”
Mule deer trapping operations in the Baggs herd began in December 2011 and has continued every December and January since. Mule deer were baited into drop nets set up at selected sites where the deer congregated. Apple pulp was used as the bait, as the deer could not resist its sweet odor and taste. The trapping team used a 40’ X 40’ square drop net made by Wildlife Capture based out of Flagstaff, Arizona. The net is hung from five poles, one in each corner and one in the center. Biologists hid near trapping sites and waited for the deer to come underneath the drop net to feed on the bait. When the deer are busy feeding, the remote-controlled release button is activated and the electro-magnetic-operated net falls on top of them.
“We fitted the deer with ear tags, PIT tags and radio transmitters to learn more about the annual survival, movements and ultimately an independent estimate of population size for the Baggs mule deer herd,” Mong said. “We not only had partnerships in the form of volunteering time to trap deer, but also through financial and equipment support. The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative has given financial support to launch the project, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department donated ear tag radio transmitters to mark bucks and the Little Snake River Conservation District has been integral in supporting the project logistically.”
“In addition to traditional tagging methods the project has pioneered a new technique of marking mule deer using radio frequency identification (RFID). This technique works by inserting PIT tags with unique identification numbers in the deer to track their movement along the Baggs mule deer migration route. The PIT tag does not operate on a battery, but rather, remains inactive until it travels close to a PIT tag reader, therefore lasting the entire life of the mule deer.”
“So far we have seen deer move from the Savery area to spots 20 miles south of Rawlins and surprisingly to the Zirkel Wilderness Area east of Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” Mong said. “This research is giving us great information on the movement patterns of not only doe mule deer, but also bucks, which will allow us to work closely with our partners in Colorado to make more informed management decisions.”
The relative low cost of captures and the techniques used to track deer has allowed Mong and his crew of volunteers to capture a large number of deer and will allow the project to continue into the foreseeable future.
Mong emphasized, “This project would not be possible or feasible without so many partners and volunteers supporting the project through financial contributions and donating their time and effort to make this project successful. After four years, this trapping project brought a lot of people together to benefit mule deer.”
“There were a lot of people who volunteered their time to make this a success,” Mong said. “I don’t want to leave anyone out in the thank you list because there are so many of them and I sincerely hope they know we recognize and appreciate their hard work. Having said that, I would like to especially like to thank these volunteers from the 2014-2015 trapping season: Robert Dunn, Bo and Kody Stocks, Jennifer Fuit and her son, Dalton Walker, Kurt Olson, John, B.J. and Tanner MacMullen, Todd Kaisler, Eric and Michelle Anderson, Jeff Geyer, Jeff Cowley, Britney Brito, Dawn Moon, Don Pinneo and Ryan Bagley.”
Numerous groups have partnered with WGFD to make this mule deer study happen. Key contributors include: researchers with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming, UW Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society, Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), WYDOT wildlife biologist Thomas Hart, the Green River/Rock Springs and Pinedale Chapters of Muley Fanatics Foundation, Little Snake River Conservation District, Wildlife Landscape Conservation Initiative, personnel from Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, rancher Jeff Sagner and the Cheyenne Chapter of Muley Fanatics Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Trust Fund.”