A new deer survey will soon be underway, but officials expect more of the same: declining populations.
Ryan Platt, the assistant district wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s John Day Field Office, said ODFW is flying for the survey earlier this year because they will conduct a new survey method to count the declining deer population.
A helicopter will be flying out starting Feb. 22 as it conducts surveys on the deer population for three weeks throughout Grant County.
This year, Platt said ODFW is working with a statistical sampling-based survey method called Sight Rat, the first time they have used this method in the John Day District. He said this survey combines two population methods based on sizes and quadrants.
“We’re kind of guessing we’ll see more decline from the previous years when we did our statistical sampling,” Platt said. “Deer in general throughout Oregon and throughout the West face many factors such as habitat loss and degradation, predators and diseases.”
Platt said one problem deer face in the John Day Valley is winter range degradation caused by juniper and annual grass encroachment. He also said some ranges are not as productive as they used to be due to a change in climate, suppressing fires and the decline of logging.
Disease issues are also growing with mule deer, according to Platt. He said, in 2015, mule deer in the Eastern Oregon region faced an outbreak of the epizootic hemorrhagic disease. This disease makes deer bleed internally, which either kills them right away or causes lasting effects, Platt said.
“On bucks, we know that it shrivels their testicles, and they’re unable to produce hormones that regulate antler growth,” Platt said. “That’s why you’ll see velvet bucks this time of year when everyone one else has antlers that hardened or dropped off.”
Platt said they are not sure how the epizootic hemorrhagic disease harms does, but they have suspicions that it could impact their fawn productivity or survival.
Prior to 2015, he said there were about 60 fawns per 100 does going into winter with about 30-40 fawns coming out of the season. Since 2015, there have been about 40 fawns per 100 does in the winter, coming out with 25-35 fawns after .
“That right there indicates that we don’t have the fawn recruitment that we need to sustain a growing population locally,” Platt said. “Those are probably the two biggest impacts of our mule deer population locally. It’s just a bad time to be a mule deer in the West. Pretty much all populations are going down, and no one has found that silver bullet cure to change the trajectory.”