NV deer herds down; other species doing well

Reno, Nev. (AP) – Elk, antelope and bighorn sheep are quite at
home on the Nevada range, while deer populations continue to
struggle because of habitat loss and drought, according to a new
report by the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

The agency’s 2008-2009 big game status report, released last
week, estimates 106,000 mule deer statewide, a 2 percent decline
from last year.

“Deer had a tough time,” said Larry Gilbertson, NDOW’s eastern
regional supervising game biologist in Elko.

This year, the wildlife agency is recommending 8,588 hunting
tags be issued for resident rifle deer hunters, about 500 fewer
than last year. Nevada wildlife commissioners on Saturday will set
final tag quotas for all big game species at a meeting in Reno.

A random draw to allocate tags is conducted in June.

Separate quotas are set for hunting with other weapons, such as
bows and muzzleloaders.

Nevada mule deer have been hammered in recent years by loss of
critical winter habitat because of fire. Drought conditions also
leave fawns in a weakened state heading into the winter.

In 2006, fires destroyed more than 1.3 million acres in Nevada,
much of that in northeast Nevada, home to a large portion of the
state’s deer herds.

While grasses have remerged from the charred landscape, to the
benefit of elk, shrub vegetation that deer feed on takes much
longer to re-establish.

“They’re going to look for a place where shrubs are sticking up
out of the snow,” Gilbertson said of deer.

Herds will migrate until they find suitable feed and shelter.
But the long trek, often 30 to 40 miles, can be fatal for fawns
that lack body fat energy reserves.

Summer drought conditions don’t help, either.

“Basically for deer, what seems to be missing is, we need to
have pretty good late spring and summer moisture,” Gilbertson
said.

“When fawns are really little, all the grass, weeds and forbs
coming up provide places to hide,” he said. “Moms get in good shape
and fawns grow.”

If they’re healthy going into winter, they have a much greater
chance of survival he said. “Then they come out in the spring and
have better fawn production.”

In contrast to deer, the report, which details populations and
habitat conditions in distinct regions across the state, shows elk,
antelope and bighorn sheep populations are on the rise.

Biologists estimate the number of elk at 10,900, a 14 percent
increase over 2008.

“Hunters lucky enough to receive an elk tag for 2009 should
enjoy good hunting conditions with overall healthy elk populations
and good availability of mature bulls for harvest,” the report
said.

Agency staff is recommending 748 resident rifle bull elk tags,
20 more than last year, and 1,374 rifle cow elk tags, an increase
of 164.

Likewise, Nevada’s pronghorn antelope population is estimated at
a record high 24,500, and NDOW is recommending more hunting tags in
all categories

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