Photo Credit: TJ Gooliaff

Southern Interior Mule Deer Project: Winter Update

The Southern Interior Mule Deer Project had a great winter capture season.  Since the fall our team and volunteers have been out checking and moving trail cameras, conducting mortality investigations and capturing and collaring more does and fawns.

In the last couple of months our team added 6 adults and 19 fawns to the West Okanagan study area, 15 adults and 18 fawns in the Boundary study area and 5 adults and 20 fawns to the Cache Creek study area.  Since the program began 2 years ago, we’ve collared 232 deer (including deer whose collars failed or fell off as designed).

Currently collared:

  • West Okanagan
    • 32 adult does
    • 12 yearlings
    • 17 fawns
  • Boundary
    • 36 adult does
    • 4 yearlings
    • 17 fawns
  • Cache Creek
    • 31 adult does
    • 3 yearlings
    • 16 fawns

Survival

Since we started collaring two years ago we’ve collared 232 deer (including collars which failed or fell off as designed).  Part of the project is trying to establish when, where and how our deer die.  Investigations are conducted by the SIMDeer team and volunteers who were trained in 2019.

Between April 2018-Jan 2020 West Okanagan adult doe annual survival was 83%, and fawn survival over last winter (December 2018-May 2019) was 61%.  The team is still collecting overwinter fawn survival data for this year; we will have another update this spring.  To date the project has investigated 55 mortalities since the project began.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Accident: 1
  • Black Bear: 1
  • Canid: 1
  • Cougar: 26
  • Coyote: 3
  • Drowning: 1
  • Health: 1
  • Probable Cougar: 3
  • Probable Grizzly Bear: 1
  • Wolf: 2
  • Starvation: 2
  • Unknown: 5
  • Unknown Predation: 2
  • Unregulated harvest: 2
  • Vehicle: 4

The mortality investigation side of the project is working together with the cougar-prey project (started this winter), led by Siobhan Darlington, PhD student in Dr. Adam Ford’s lab at UBCO.  The project currently has 12 cougars collared across southern BC looking at diet, movement and hunting.  We are looking for volunteers who are willing to be trained to investigate cougar kill sites and set up trail cameras.  To volunteer please email s.darlington@ubc.ca 

Migration

78% of our deer migrated.  Most deer moved to summer range April-May and returned to winter range in October-Nov.  On average the collared deer migrated 55 kms, with the longest migrant coming from the West Okanagan moving approximately 100 kms.  Most of the deer choose nearly the same path when migrating back to winter range in the fall as when they leave it in the spring.

Following is a migration clip from a deer captured April 21 2018 as a 10 month old fawn weighing 52.1kg, recaptured December 16, 2018 weighing 66.67kg, and died August 23rd, 2019 from a cougar attack.

Following are photos of the necropsy conducted on the doe which was very skinny.  It is presumed she was attacked by a cougar but not killed, and ultimately died of an infection which was caused by the attack.  The deer was emaciated, and its lungs were full of yellow puss.

Below is an 8-month clip of her movements and spring migration, including where she ultimately died.


Camera Trapping

Last summer our team members and volunteers placed 155 cameras out in our three study areas encompassing ~40,000 km2, nearly the size of Switzerland.  Last fall a number of those cameras were moved from summer range to winter range.  The cameras will help us identify relative abundance of predators and prey between our study areas, how the large mammal community responds to landscape change, and competition between ungulates.  This portion of the project is being led by Sam Foster, our PhD candidate with Dr. Sophie Gilbert’s Lab at the University of Idaho.

Last year we had one trail camera stolen, at least five cameras which were damaged, and approximately 30% which had been moved by animals.  Grant Hiebert, one of our super volunteers, has designed a guard for the trail cameras to try to reduce the number of cameras moved/damaged.

This spring (May/June) we will again be moving our cameras to summer range, topping up batteries, adding guards, and removing data cards.  The project will need more volunteers and additional funding.  We are also aggregating the tens of thousands of pictures so they can be quantified electronically by volunteers.  Camera related costs for this year is estimated at $6000 CDN to replace batteries, repair cameras, purchase replacement cameras, and try the camera guards.

Please send an email to samuelfoster@uidaho.edu to be added to the camera trap volunteer list.  To donate go to the BCWF website and select Southern Interior Mule Deer Project under designation and we will issue you a tax receipt.

Thanks

The Southern Interior Mule Deer Project is the largest collaborative wildlife research project ever in British Columbia.  It would not happen without our collaborators, funders, and volunteers, a list which is growing longer by the day.

A special shout-out goes to Graham and Bernice Anderson from Clinton, BC who housed and fed our two PhD students Sam Foster and Chloe Wright last fall while they were capturing deer.  Grant Hiebert, from Salmon Arm, has spent countless hours and dollars designing and fabricating clover trap releases, trail camera guards, and moving over 30 trail cameras.  The Siemen clan, from Grand Forks, which has done most of our mortality investigations in the Boundary, housed our team and assisted with capture work.  Finally, our regional trail camera coordinators Grant Hiebert, Dave Carleton and Brian Hancock.

There are nearly 200 volunteers who helped out with the various facets of the project, including some multi-day hikes to place cameras into some of the most remote locations in Southern BC.

Here are a list of the organizations which have funded or volunteered to date:

  • Okanagan Nation Alliance
  • BC Wildlife Federation
  • Forest Enhancement Society of BC
  • Back Country Hunters & Anglers
  • Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Branch
  • BC Timber Sales
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of British Columbia Okanagan
  • University of Idaho
  • The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation
  • Kettle Wildlife Association
  • Mission & District Rod & Gun Club
  • North Shore Fish & Game Club
  • Southern Okanagan Sportsmen’s Association
  • East Kootenay Hunters Association
  • Kelowna & District Fish & Game Club
  • Kamloops and District Fish and Game Association
  • OCEOLA Fish and Game Club
  • Pemberton Wildlife Association
  • Summerland Sportsman’s Association
  • Traditional Bowhunters of BC
  • Vernon Fish and Game Association
  • Grand Forks Wildlife Association
  • Keremeos-Cawston Sportsman Association
  • Clinton Sportsmen’s Association

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