The effects of predators on mule deer herds
The relationship between predator and prey is not always what it seems.
IF THERE'S ONE WORD that can get a deer hunter's blood boiling, it's this one — "predator."
But are deer hunters focusing their frustration on the right target? Are predators really the main reason the number of deer in Utah isn't at the level many hunters want to see? What role do other factors, such as habitat, play in the number of deer in the state?
And those are just the beginning of the questions one might ask. For example, do all predators affect deer herds the same way? And if Utah's deer herds are going to grow, which part of the herds are the most critical part to protect — adults or fawns?
And finally, what's the Division of Wildlife Resources doing to address predator versus mule deer issues in Utah?
You'll find answers to all of these questions at the links below.
Before talking about the effect predators can have on mule deer, it's important to understand the role habitat plays in the number of mule deer Utah can support.
Of the three predators that prey on mule deer in Utah, black bears have the least affect on deer.
Cougars are obviously different from black bears in many ways. One of those ways is the fact that cougars are carnivores, meaning that their diet consists only of other animals.
Because coyotes are unprotected wildlife in Utah, the DWR doesn't have the legal authority to manage them like other predators.
What is the DWR doing to control predators in Utah?
The Division of Wildlife Resources has taken several measures over the past decade to control predator populations in Utah. The following are among those measures:
- Utah has an extremely aggressive predator management plan. Each year, the state spends nearly $500,000 on predator control efforts A good portion of that money is allocated to the USDA-Wildlife Services. This joint federal and state agency includes federal and state trappers and sharpshooters. These professionals target coyotes in the areas and at the time that will do deer herds the most good.
- In the mid 1990s, the Utah Wildlife Board approved several changes to better balance cougars and deer in the state:
- The first harvest-objective units were established. These units have increased the number of cougars taken in Utah by allowing an unlimited number of hunters to hunt the areas where deer herds are struggling the most.
- The board also approved a big increase in the number of limited-entry cougar permits in Utah.
These measures appear to have worked. Data collected by DWR biologists indicate the number of cougars in Utah is much lower now than it was 10 years ago.
The DWR continues to focus cougar harvest in areas that will help mule deer and bighorn sheep the most by putting those areas under special predator management plans.
Currently, 22 of Utah's 49 cougar units are managed under a predator management plan.