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Conservation Implications Of Winter-Feeding Policies For Mule Deer In Utah

by Peterson, Christian

Abstract (Summary)
Policies regulating wildlife winter-feeding programs may have long-term impacts on conservation and future management of both target and non-target species. In 2000, the Utah Wildlife Board, upon reviewing input from a series of public regional meetings, adopted a Utah Big Game Winter-Feeding Policy. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources used this policy to regulate winter-feeding programs for mule deer in northern Utah, 2001-2005. I monitored the program effects on mule deer biology, activity and migration, and winter browse utilization and productivity. While feed rations generally compensated for protein and energy deficiencies, they may overlook mineral deficiencies. To determine if mule deer could select for feeds that contained minerals that may be deficient in native browse, I conducted experimental feeding trials using copper supplements. Feeding program success on increasing mule deer winter survival depends heavily on timely implementation. Therefore, I evaluated the utility of a modified body condition index to use deer-vehicle collision carcasses to monitor herd nutritional status, and applied this information to weather data to assist in determining when to implement winter-feeding programs. Lastly, I surveyed a random sample of Utah stakeholders to determine if the policy developed through the regional meeting process reflected wider public opinion rather than traditional consumptive users. This winter-feeding enhanced body condition, and increased adult female survival. When dynamics of fed and non-fed study groups were modeled over five years, the model predicted both populations were declining, with a lower rate of decline in the fed population. The primary cause of mortality for fed and non-fed groups, deer-vehicle collision, nullified benefits accrued from feeding. Deer may have balanced the effects of sagebrush and bitterbrush toxins with nutrients from feed rations, thus resulting in increased browsing of bitterbrush. Fed deer browsed over less area, and migrated earlier in fall and later in spring. Mule deer also selected a consistent proportion of copper-amended rations, suggesting plain rations are nutritionally inadequate. Although most Utah stakeholders were unaware of Utah's big game winterfeeding policy, most believed winter-feeding was an important mule deer management strategy in Utah. When given a choice between using management funds to support winter-feeding or habitat projects, stakeholders preferred funding habitat restoration.
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Advisor:

School:Utah State University

School Location:USA - Utah

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:05/01/2008

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