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November 9, 2010

MADISON -- Progress continues on new deer research projects designed to answer questions important to hunters and managers of Wisconsin's white-tailed deer herd.

"Many hunters are concerned with our deer population model accuracy and the impacts of predators," said Keith Warnke, big game ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources. "In response to those concerns the department is investing a record amount of its resources into this research."

While an audit by international wildlife experts found the department's deer population modeling system to be sound and one of the best in the country, Warnke said challenges remain that have led to the new research projects.

Buck survival and predators

Two projects set to get underway this winter will look at the causes of death in bucks and fawns including the roles of predators, weather and hunters.

Hunter harvest is the largest cause of death for bucks. Biologists refer to the portion of bucks killed by hunters each year as the buck recovery rate (BRR). Over the course of five years deer will be captured, tagged and monitored to determine their cause of death whether it is due to hunters or natural causes such as wolves, bears, coyotes, bobcats, weather and accidents. The Buck Recovery Rate is a key component of accurate deer population estimates.


"The distribution and abundance of predators on Wisconsin's landscape has changed over time," says Warnke. "From the time a doe is impregnated to the time the fall hunting season begins, a number of fawns are lost every year to various causes before and after birth including weather, food availability and nutrition, disease, predation and accidents."

This study will measure the role of predation on recruitment which is the number of deer added to the population each year by fawns surviving into the fall. Researchers will gather data on doe pregnancy rates and litter sizes and fawn survival and causes of mortality from birth to the hunting season.

"We will also attempt to identify the specific predators of fawns, mainly wolves, bears, bobcats, and coyotes, and measure the impact predation has on recruitment," Warnke said. Little is known, Warnke acknowledged, about the impact of coyote and bobcat predation on deer in Wisconsin. Similar research is underway in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and the two states are sharing results.

Partners needed to get the job done

Researchers, with the help of volunteers, will place deer traps in Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, Price, Shawano, Waupaca and Outagamie counties at the close of the deer hunting seasons.

Captured deer will be fitted with radio collars and ear tags. In the spring, fawns born to monitored does also will be fitted with radio-telemetry collars.

In addition to the DNR scientists, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Wildlife Ecology, UW Applied Population Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point are involved along with the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Safari Club International, Union Sportsmen's Alliance, and Whitetails Unlimited.

These groups will be looking for help from the state's deer hunters. Warnke said this is an opportunity for hunters to assist biologists in gathering information on deer numbers in the state.

"We are encouraging all hunters and anyone else who is interested to volunteer to help on these projects," said Warnke.

Hunters can check the White-tailed Deer Research Projects page of the DNR website and follow the 'Sign up today link' to complete the volunteer form. Or they can contact a local wildlife biologist.

DNR wildlife officials are committed to continually improving the quality of the state's deer management program. "Hunters play a critical role in this process," Warnke said, "and as the agency moves forward with its ambitious research programs, hunter involvement will be more important than ever."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Keith Warnke - (608) 264-6023

Last Revised: Tuesday, November 09, 2010

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