The Hunt For Data – Using Collars For Mule Deer Conservation

It’s late on a brisk, March afternoon. I am approaching the last known location of one of our 30 collared mule deer that roam the wintery landscape of Teton County, Wyoming. Listening with my radio telemetry antenna, strapped to the roof of the work truck, I hear something peculiar. The collar of deer #28 is beeping at an alarming 80 beeps/minute. To a layman, this means nothing; to a researcher, this means life or death – literally. In this case, it’s the latter. It’s a bittersweet moment for me. Although death of one of our deer is poignant, the information that deer carry is invaluable, and I now have an opportunity to get my hands on that data.Over the last two years, the Conservation Research Center (CRC) has equipped 40 deer with store-on-board GPS collars. These collars are designed to collect the exact location of a deer every 1.5 to 2 hours. Unlike some collars designed for live feed of location points, our data are stored on the collar. Until we get the collars in-hand, they remain an unattainable gold-mine of information for mule deer conservation.Fortunately, all of the deer will be adorned with their newly-acquired jewelry for no more than two years. Each collar will self-release on December 11, 2012. When that day comes, researchers at the CRC will be rewarded with over 100,000 data points of mule deer locations, and the deer will be rewarded with slightly lighter necks. The data we download from the collars will be used to promote conservation of Teton County’s mule deer population. Among many other things, we will be able to delineate migration corridors, determine key road-crossing points and identify key land parcels critical for mule deer habitat. Our goal is to help planners and developers make informed decisions about roadway development that will mitigate wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) and promote roadway safety.Unfortunately, for #28, it’s a different story. She was collared December 2011 and her collar contains only a few months’ worth of data. However, just a few months of data collection is not a futile effort (especially in #28’s case). The data downloaded from her collar contain a noticeable number of points near Highway 26, a foreshadowing of her ultimate demise. It came as no surprise that she was victim of a WVC. Her story is a somber reminder of how vulnerable Wyoming mule deer are to roadways. It’s also affirmation that the CRC’s objectives in studying deer movements in relation to roadways are crucial for mule deer conservation in Teton County, WY.Photo credit: Mark Gocke

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