The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has been collaring mule deer in the winter ranges near LaBarge, Kemmerer and Evanston with the goal to fit radio collars on 70 does in these areas to determine habitats preferred by the deer. Once habitat usage is documented, wildlife managers will be able to assess the nutritional carrying capacity of the population to better determine how many deer the landscape can support in a given year. Also important are migration routes and stopover areas the deer use as they depart winter ranges on their annual migration to summer ranges.
To date, wildlife managers have identified important migration corridors from critical winter ranges in the LaBarage area to summer ranges in the Greys River and Wyoming Range and Salt Ranges. There has also been a substantial migration documented for deer that spend the winter by Evanston and travel into the Greys River and Salt Ranges as well—a distance of at least 150-160 miles.
Gary Fralick, Game and Fish biologist whose responsibilities include the Wyoming Range deer herd said, “Stopover areas are those areas deer pass through during their annual migration to summer ranges. These stopover areas are essential habitat components for the animals to refuel and begin to replenish fat reserves after spending six months on sagebrush winter ranges. Migrations are very energetically demanding and it is important for the does to be in good physical condition prior to the parturition period.”
Fralick said that stopover areas allow the pregnant does to maximize the green succulent grasses and forbs that provide necessary nutrition to allow does to produce viable and healthy fawns during the June birthing period.
“The body condition of the does is ultimately going to dictate how many fawns are recruited into the population,” Fralick said. “This recruitment will determine the numbers of animals available for wildlife enthusiasts to view and what kind of hunting seasons can be expected in future years.”
A positive indicator of the age group variety of the Wyoming range herd over the last three years has been provided by hunter harvest data.
“We’ve seen quite a variation in the number of age classes of bucks being harvested,” Fralick said. “This indicates that the age classes of these animals when they were fawns, come through the winter in good shape.”
Fralick said the winter so far is shaping up to be another good year for deer but cautioned there are still several months of winter left that could affect the population.
“But, unless the severity of the winter is substantial in the next few months, the deer now on the winter ranges should have a high survival rate. To finish off the winter, we will be hoping for spring precipitation with the resulting plant growth the deer need during the annual migration from their winter to summer ranges,” Fralick said.