Utah DWR sends deer aloft as part of wildlife management effort

Those in northern Utah might have seen some flying deer in the sky Wednesday.

They were not reindeer, but rather female mule deer. The Division of Wildlife Resources performed about 25 health check-ups on the animals Wednesday.

In order to capture the doe, a helicopter team had to shoot a net at the animals after tracking them on GPS collars, which were fitted on the deer in December.

Then the helicopter crew nets them, ties them, blindfolds them, bags them and carries them over the county via helicopter to where the DWR's team of biologists and game veterinarians are standing by.

“This winter has been fairly mild,” said Cache District Biologist Jim Christensen. “So, we have not seen as much as far as mortality due to malnutrition; so it’s been a good winter this year compared to last year, from a deer survival standpoint.”

The team started the project four years ago. They collar and track deer every December all over the state, and then check their health status in March to see how they fared through the winter.

“We need to know and understand the health of the deer so we can understand what’s going on with our habitat,” Christensen explained. “If we have habitat issues, and if the deer are not getting enough nutrition, then we know we need to focus more on the habitat side of wildlife management. If they have any kind of disease, we need to know about that.”

They gave the deer shots, took blood samples, and fitted them with new GPS collars that will track their locations every two hours. Some of the deer even had special devices inserted that will later determine whether those deer gave birth by falling out during birth.

“We are using an ultrasound and we are measuring the amount of fat a deer has in March, and we are comparing that to how the deer looked in December,” said DWR’s Big Game Coordinator Kent Hersey.

The project is set to last until 2021.

A few weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced in Salt Lake City that he would be investing in big game migration in order to improve habitats for game, including in Utah. Secretary Zinke said the federal government, including the BLM and the Forest Service, will be involved in the migration tracking across several western states, including Utah.

Zinke’s announcement means the DWR’s current efforts with the deer tracking will be expanded with the help of the BLM and the Forest Service.