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Mule Deer and Our Role in Conservation

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Mule Deer and Our Role in Conservation

Summary: Mule deer are a key species in the Chilcotin Ark but without ongoing conservation, their numbers could decline. Find out about four of the methods we use to conserve mule deer in the Chilcotin Ark.

Mule deer are most easily identified by their ears and tails. Their huge ears are about three-quarters the length of their head making them clearly visible even from a distance. Their tails are white, ending in a black point and surrounded by white hair. Mule deer are well adapted to our corner of the Chilcotin Ark. We see them in grassy valleys, grazing in alpine meadows and in the forests of the South Chilcotin Mountains.

There are about eight thousand mule deer in the South Chilcotin Mountains which means you’re almost guaranteed to see one, from the meadows of Spruce Lake and the annual migration past Deer Pass to the family of five that live around our ranch and are frequently seen in the yard or grazing with our horses in the summer months. Spring is always a special time for us when the deer return from their winter range, new fawns are born and last year’s young are almost grown, still living with their moms.

Mule deer thrive in the South Chilcotin Mountains. As wilderness stewards, taking responsibility to conserve this area we benefit from, we help them do so in several ways. The first and most simple way is by recording them in our wildlife sightings forms every time we see deer in the area. These forms record the number, age, sex and any distinguishing features of every animal or group of animals we see. This allows us to build up a detailed understanding of the numbers and distribution of species in the area. From here, we can determine if human activity might be having a negative impact on the animals or if work needs to be done to enhance their habitat.

This leads us onto the second way we work to conserve mule deer in the South Chilcotin Mountains. Habitat enhancement of mule deer winter ranges is one way to increase population numbers. Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) is one of the mule deer’s most important food sources but the plant declined following a forest fire in 2009 in the Bridge River Watershed. To ensure this negative impact didn’t continue, we took action. We collect snowbrush seeds to sow and create what will become a self-dependent population of the plant.

Once we’ve ensured the habitat is suitable for mule deer, human impact is the next issue to address. Addressing human impact doesn’t mean removing human use. We strive to create a working conservation landscape in the Chilcotin Ark. This means that the area can be used commercially and recreationally, but this is done in a sustainable way that ensures the environment can thrive. Getting the balance between economic, ecological and social factors can be a tricky issue. But when all resource users recognize a common goal – to conserve the natural environment into the future – potential conflicts are quickly reduced. The wildlife benefits by having a suitable habitat, companies benefit because the ecosystem continues to thrive and other users of the area can still benefit from nature.

One example of this is the logging industry. Commercial logging takes place in several areas in and around the South Chilcotin Mountains. Regulations are in place to reduce the impact of logging on the environment. One of these regulations is to limit logging roads to 0.5km per 2km2 of forest. This means that when a new logging road needs to be made, old ones have to be deactivated to keep below that 0.5km mark. This regulation is a great step in the right direction, but where the roads are deactivated is incredibly important. Deactivating roads in areas mule deer and other wildlife species use is more useful from a conservation perspective than deactivating roads in areas the deer don’t use. Deactivating the roads mean vehicles can’t access these areas allowing the deer to live with less human contact.

Recognizing the common goal of conserving the environment isn’t always enough to create action. Many resource users might not know how they can play their part, that something they are doing is harmful or that there is a better way to do what they are already doing. That’s where education comes in. Our work with resource users from our guests to other industries centres around education, explaining the importance of the South Chilcotin Mountains and the wider Chilcotin Ark, showing how we do conservation, getting our guests involved and working with industry to create more sustainable practices.

These four methods of conservation – population counts, habitat enhancement, minimizing human impact and education – combine to create a holistic conservation effort. We take responsibility for all of these four methods and can measure the success of our conservation efforts with population numbers. We strive to achieve the maximum population numbers for the habitat’s potential carrying capacity as this is the indicator for sustainable land management. With this work, mule deer and all wildlife species in the South Chilcotin Mountains can continue to thrive and grow.

To learn more about our conservation efforts and how you can get involved, visit Trails to Empowerment’s new partner, the Chilcotin Ark Institute (chilcotinarkinstitute.com) to make your contribution today.