The East Kootenay Urban Mule Deer Translocation Trial began one year ago this week and results to date have been highly variable says Ian Adams, a Cranbrook-based wildlife biologist who is coordinating the project.
One of the big questions for the translocation trial was how the deer would survive.
“We’re around 50 per cent survival of the collared deer that were released in February and March, 2016,” said Adams.
Over the same time period, survival of collared non-urban mule deer in the same areas has been about 80 per cent, he said.
Three of the collared deer died in the late autumn of unknown causes, possibly related to poor nutrition.
“All three were very thin,” said Adams. “At least one was very old.”
Concerns that urban deer would be predator-naïve seem to be unfounded. Predation rates are quite similar to non-urban mule deer, he said.
“We had some initial predation, mostly by cougar, in spring 2016 which was consistent with non-urban mule deer populations. Spring is when they are most vulnerable,” said Adams.
No predation occurred after early June until a deer was killed by a carnivore near Lake Koocanusa in mid-February.
Determining cause of death is key, particularly for the animals that are found in poor body condition. Full testing of recovered deer mortalities has yet to be conducted. Adams said it is important that translocation maximizes humane animal care and that deer are able to find natural feed sources and use them effectively.
Capture and translocation of 60 deer from the East Kootenay communities of Kimberley, Elkford, Cranbrook and Invermere occurred in February and March, 2016. Monitoring of deer fitted with GPS radio collars continues.
The project will be translocating 15 to 20 more deer in the coming weeks. The objective is to redeploy GPS collars that have been retrieved from mortalities in order to collect more data on survival and movement, especially during the spring period when mule deer are most at risk.
Deer will only be moved from Cranbrook and Kimberley in 2017 for logistical reasons. Elkford and Invermere, from where deer were also translocated in 2016, remain key partners in the project.
Another key question if translocation is to be considered as a future management option is finding suitable release sites.
Ten of the 22 radio-collared mule deer that were released at sites south of Highway 3 have been in Montana at one point or another, reaching as far south as Libby, Montana, but British Columbia does not want to export translocated urban deer south of the border, said Adams.
On Feb. 14, Elkford council voted against a deer cull after the town’s Urban Wildlife Management Advisory Committee recommended waiting until the final results of the translocation project are released.
“Even if its fifty per cent that survived, it’s better than killing them all,” said Cam McGregor, chair of Elkford’s Urban Wildlife Management Advisory Committee.
McGregor said he would rather see translocation used over deer culling as a management tool.
“I’m a hunter, I don’t hide the fact, but as a hunter you have to be in tune with wildlife,” he said. “If you want to get out there and enjoy wildlife you’ve got to step up a little bit and look after them.”