At 7am on December 11, 2012, 20 mule deer in Teton County, WY awoke to a peculiar feeling. The collar that many of them had been wearing for the better part of two years miraculously fell off. In actuality, there was no miracle in the matter. These collars were programmed to fall off at that exact moment.
In 2010 the Conservation Research Center, in collaboration with – and funding from- the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WyDOT) and Federal Highway Administration, initiated a project investigating mule deer habitat use and movements in relation to roadways. In order to gather important data on behavior and movements, we equipped 40 mule deer with store-on-board GPS collars that were programmed to take an exact location every 1.5 to 2 hours. The valuable information that lies within these collars is a mystery until they are retrieved and data downloaded.
The release of these collars on that cold, December morning marked a turning point in the project. Answers to the many questions that had been brewing over the last few years were now within arm’s reach. Many project partners and TSS staff volunteered their time to help with retrieval, and by December 19th, we had successfully retrieved all 20 collars!
From those collars, we have downloaded over 150,000 GPS locations of mule deer throughout Teton County. Visually seeing the movements and behaviors of these deer over the last two years is exciting, interesting and, at times, very surprising. Deer preferences for certain habitats and resources begin to appear, and the stories of these animals start to come to life. Our goal is to share these stories with planners, developers and wildlife managers to create a better understanding of how urban development impacts wildlife populations in Jackson Hole.