Tuesday, February 02, 2010

RESEARCH NEWS: Using Predators To Reverse Deer Impacts

Researchers writing in the February issue of BioScience propose reintroducing small, managed populations of wolves into national parks and other areas in order to restore damaged ecosystems.

The populations would not be self-sustaining, and may consist of a single pack. But the BioScience authors suggest that even managed populations could bring ecological, educational, recreational, scientific, and economic benefits.

The authors, Daniel S. Licht, of the National Park Service, and four coauthors, note that research in recent years has shown the importance of wolves to ecosystems in which they naturally occur. For example, the presence of wolves usually leads to fewer ungulates, which in turn generally means more plant biomass and biodiversity. Wolves can also increase tourism.

Licht and his coauthors believe that wolves introduced for the purpose of ecosystem stewardship, rather than for the creation of self-sustaining wolf populations, could enhance public understanding and appreciation of the animals. Advances in real-time animal tracking made possible through global positioning system technology, as well as the use of contraception and surgery, could help in controlling the growth of introduced populations. This approach might mitigate concerns about depredation of livestock and game, attacks on pets, and human safety, Licht and colleagues maintain. Fences could also play a role.

Wolves were introduced to Coronation Island, Alaska, for ecosystem restoration in 1960, and they successfully controlled deer there before the wolf population grew and subsequently crashed. Licht and his coauthors suggest that with more intensive management this unfavorable outcome could have been avoided, and that desirable results could be expected at many sites in North America and elsewhere, provided there are sufficient prey.

Source: Science Daily

Monday, February 01, 2010

MONTANA NEWS: Statewide, Mule Deer Numbers Decline

It’s tough to be a mule deer in Montana these days.

The big-bodied deer draw lots of hunting pressure all over the state, although not always the same hunters. For the past three years, mule deer numbers have been declining and state Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials are trying to turn the trend.

In western Montana, poor mule deer numbers are tracking equally poor white-tailed deer populations. But the two species are regulated differently, with more liberal either-sex hunting opportunities for whitetails. That puts the focus on the other predators: wolves, mountain lions and bears, according to Region 2 wildlife program manager Mike Thompson.

While wolf predation has been getting most of the attention lately, Thompson said lions shouldn’t be discounted. The agency increased its lion hunting quota last year to see what impact extra cat hunting might have. That data should be coming later this spring, when hunting regulations might see further lion focus.

Montana’s wolf quota filled quickly in the two western hunting districts last fall. Wildlife managers are studying the results of the hunt over the winter as they await a federal court ruling on the wolf’s threatened species status. That decision will either allow or prohibit a 2010 wolf hunting season.

Habitat is another concern, according to Thompson’s counterpart, Jim Williams, in Kalispell’s FWP Region 1. Mule deer are less common in the northwest, but no less treasured.

“The country is so rugged – all these alder-choked basins – but you can kill some beautiful old bucks,” Williams said. “It’s a brutal physical hunt. A lot of big bucks die of old age.”

They don’t die by wolves so much because their high alpine haunts don’t overlap with the packs’ preferred whitetail zones. But those areas have seen decreasing snowpack and increasing forest invasion over the past decade, which reduce the forage mule deer desire. The downward deer trend still needs more research to figure out the trend drivers, he said.

Lions and two-legged hunters are the main challenge in the eastern plains, according to hunters there.

“We’ve got zero wolf impact,” said Red Bone Outfitters owner Bud Martin of Zortman, near the popular Missouri Breaks hunting grounds. “All the predation impact here is mountain lions. Around the Little Rockies (mountain range), a mountain lion hunt is just a 10-minute jog.”

Martin said he’s seen a particular lion increase (and mule deer decline) on the C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, where federal regulations prohibit mountain lion hunting. But he also laid some responsibility on FWP hunting policies, which he said ran down western deer herds and encouraged excessive numbers of hunters to head east.

“That’s why people come to eastern Montana to hunt,” he said. “They get tired of hunting where success rate is 2 or 3 or 4 percent. And so every fork-horn mule deer out here gets blasted.”

FWP state wildlife program manager Quentin Kujula noted mule deer have always been helped and hindered by their local situations – whether its predators, weather or the species’ own up-and-down population cycle. Lions in the eastern part of the state are a relatively recent factor, he said, but one to watch.

FWP biologists also acknowledge that liberal license sales in past years have hurt deer populations. That was the rationale behind proposals eliminating over-the-counter doe tags in most of western Montana and dropping the eight-day either-sex period of the 2010 hunting season.

Those changes, and other reductions to mule deer license availability, will go before the FWP commissioners at their Feb. 11 meeting.

Source: The Missoulian

MARYLAND NEWS: Deer Cull Approved Adjacent to Camp David

After nearly three decades of research and opposition from wildlife advocates, government sharpshooters are taking aim at white-tailed deer in the national park surrounding the Camp David presidential retreat in western Maryland.

The National Park Service says the shooting will start Monday afternoon in Catoctin Mountain Park near Thurmont and continue for the next six weeks.

Parts of the park will be closed Monday through Thursday afternoons to accommodate the shooting, which will also occur at night.

The government plans to kill more than 2,000 deer over 15 years to curb tree damage caused by a deer herd it says is eight times too big. The lack of vegetation has raised questions in the past about the security of Camp David.

Source: ABC 7 News