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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Reno, Nevada » Great Basin Rangelands Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #381199

Research Project: Management and Restoration of Rangeland Ecosystems

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

Title: The need to improve mule deer populations: history

item Clements, Darin - Charlie

Submitted to: The Progressive Rancher
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/14/2021
Publication Date: 2/12/2021
Citation: Clements, D.D. 2021. The need to improve mule deer populations: history. The Progressive Rancher. 20(2):26-27.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: In more recent times, it has been quite obvious that game species such as sage grouse have received enormous attention and financial obligation in an effort to restore and protect this sensitive species. Yet, the only declining big game species in North America, mule deer, are largely absent from the concern of most researchers. The vocal sentiment of many sportsmen and women in northern Nevada, concerning mule deer, is one of frustration. As other big game species such as pronghorn, elk and bighorn sheep continue to experience growth and expansion, mule deer on the other hand continue to struggle overtime. Historically, most authorities agree that at the time of European contact in northern Nevada, mule deer were in fact quite scarce. Mule deer population estimates reported less than 50,000 animals in the early 1900s, followed by irruptions of an estimated 250,000 animals by 1950 and 240,000 in 1988. Since 1988 there has been a gradual decline in mule deer populations with an estimated population of 92,000 by 2020. Among the hypothesis for the mule deer population irruptions of the 1950s, U.S. Forest Service Researcher, George Greull reported in his publication “Post-1900 mule deer irruptions in the Intermountain West; Principle causes and influences” that the environmental changes brought about by domestic livestock grazing resulted in the decrease of herbaceous species, decrease in wildfire frequencies due to decreases in herbaceous fuel loads and the significant increase in shrub species that benefitted mule deer throughout the Great Basin. Pioneer range scientist, James A. Young pointed out that virtually all western Great Basin plant communities that had sagebrush species during this mule deer irruption had sagebrush species under pre-contact conditions. Young also pointed out that even though these shrub species were present during pre-contact time, a very subtle increase in shrub communities could have significant beneficial impacts on browsing ungulates such as mule deer. There is no doubt that when looking at issues that challenge the restoration of mule deer populations numerous opinions and concerns arise, yet to open this dialog and perhaps open the minds to the opinion of others even though it may not be your own is indeed a dialog worth having.