The North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducted its annual spring mule deer survey in April, and results indicate western North Dakota’s mule deer population has increased 19 percent from last year.
Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor, said the increase is a result of less severe winters the past couple of years, no harvest of antlerless deer in 2012 and 2013, and improved fawn production. The 2014 index is only 7 percent below the long-term average.
“Mule deer numbers are headed in the right direction, but in order to maintain further population growth we need to maintain a conservative management approach, with no antlerless mule deer harvest again in 2014,” Stillings said.
Biologists counted 1,944 mule deer in 306.3 square miles during this year’s survey. Overall mule deer density in the badlands was 6.3 deer per square mile, which is up from 5.3 deer per square mile in 2013, and slightly below the long-term average of 6.8 deer per square mile.
“Although this year’s increase in mule deer is encouraging, there are long-term challenges facing mule deer in the badlands,” Stillings said. “While fawn production increased in 2013, it is still below average. We also have encroachment of Rocky Mountain juniper, predators, winter weather and changes in habitat quality due to fragmentation and disturbance.”
The spring mule deer index is used to assess mule deer abundance in the badlands. It is conducted after the snow has melted and before the trees begin to leaf out, providing the best conditions for aerial observation of deer. Biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 study areas since the 1950s.