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Discussion Starter #101
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

An email I received February 22nd made me do a double take. I thought I had already answered it, but it was déjà vu. The email read:

“I am a rural mail carrier in Luzerne County. While on my route some days I will see 40+ deer. Today February 22, 2020 around 10:30am, I came across a group of doe (7), what stood out was a very small doe, but even more interesting was the doe/fawn was covered in spots and appeared to be something like a typical July fawn in size, shape and color. I have never seen anything like it. The doe and fawn even crossed the road in front of me. Unfortunately, when I went to take a picture my phone froze up on me. Have you heard anything like this or can explain??”

The reason this email took me off guard was I recently responded to this one:

“I'll first say I love reading the deer-forest blog. Keep up the good work. [We love getting email that starts out like this!] I have a question about spotted fawns in October. I was hunting a local game lands here in Lancaster County on the first day of archery. I had a doe and a fawn come in and the fawn had spots. I watched them for about an hour and the fawn was still suckling from the mother. Is a fawn with spots unheard of this time of year? I figured most fawns have lost their spots by now. The fawn looked pretty young. Is it a "fluke" or an indicator of the herd in the area?"

These two observations may seem odd and out of place. You can really starting chasing your tail…and that’s exactly what’s going on there.

A few years ago [we’ve been at this blog thing a long time now], we published a couple of posts about the timing of female pregnancy. Since this is the result of the rut, it’s always a popular topic.

If you don’t want to go back and read them, the Cliff's Notes version is that average conception dates for deer don’t change from year to year. And since fawns are the result of breeding dates 200 days later, it is a key part of these recent sightings.

Fifty percent of females are bred by 13 November. That means about half of all fawns are born by May 31st.
That also means that half of females are bred after November 13.


Check out the tail of this graph. If a fawn is conceived on the 7th of January when it is born? July 26th. When is that fawn up and moving around? Late August. Is it still nursing in October? Yup, fawns are weaned at 10 weeks. Spots in winter? You betcha.

At the extreme, the Pennsylvania game Commission has documented fawns being conceived the 3rd of March. That fawn would not born until late September.

So seeing a fawn with spots in February is not impossible, although certainly improbable.

White-tailed deer (and many other species including people) have synchronous breeding to capitalize on favorable environmental conditions. After fawns are weaned, summer is at its height and food is plentiful giving them time to get as big as possible going into winter. Born too early and fawns are likely to succumb to springtime cold snaps; born too late and they are likely to die from winter weather.

As you move south in latitude different factors influence birth dates. If the climate is fairly constant (like South America), the window of time for fawn births can be very wide. However, if there are environmental factors that introduce seasonality in weather patterns, such as rainfall, you may see births timed to coincide with periods when forage is abundant (like Texas).

Even if their birth date is a little off, fawns can still make it. But some things still have to give. Growing a new coat is one of them. Because all their energy is needed to keep the system running, shedding those spots is not a priority. Their coat gets shaggier, but spots stay prominent and very visible.

In this century, we are likely to see changes in the timing of births as our climate warms. Winters are becoming milder giving early- and late-born fawns a higher chance of survival than in the past.

Day length will continue to drive the timing of breeding in white-tailed deer. It’s in their genes. But in ecology variety is the spice of life. Those females that get pregnant early or late are going to have a better chance for their genes to be passed on.

The ever-adaptable white-tailed deer.

-Duane Diefenbach
 

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Discussion Starter #102
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

From the Northern Crew:

It was a four-capture week on the deer-trapping front. Although three of these were recaptures, we were still able to put a collar on one. Going deep into the records, this deer was captured all the way back in 2017!

Our easiest capture of the week was a petite adult doe who was having as much trouble getting sturdy footing in the trap as we were. With the constantly changing weather conditions (snowing, melting, and then refreezing), many of our trap sites have developed thick layers of ice inside the trap.

With the inconsistent weather, the forest roads have been continuously causing problems. While it takes quite a bit of time to chain-up our tires, unchain them, and then re-chain, up to three times a day, we have found it to be a necessary precaution. We have been working with just one vehicle for several weeks now, but we were happy to obtain a second working truck on Friday! We welcomed this additional truck with great enthusiasm given our dire circumstances. Some major transmission issues have all but retired our previous second truck.
Although trips to the auto-repair shop are stressful affairs, a small spark of happiness in the form of a very friendly and playful chocolate lab named Finley is always there to meet us at the shop door. While I handle the truck conversations with Brandon, our very helpful mechanic, my crew gets to play with Finley. It is hard to pull them apart when it is time to leave.

It is hard to believe that it is already March. While we are all a little anxious of the looming end to the trapping season, there is still a lot of time left to catch more deer!

-Carolyn
Northern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section

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From the Southern Crew:

Things were all hunky-dory to start the week until Old Man Winter decided to briefly rear his ugly head again. In all fairness, we can’t complain one bit as we’ve had a ridiculously mild winter. We’ve grown accustomed to these downright balmy days. So it was quite a shock to the system the second half of the week as temperatures barely got above freezing. Thursday threw us a batch of freezing rain, driving winds, and a skiff of snow reminding us that it’s not quite springtime yet.

We managed 4 captures for the week, a buck fawn and three adult does, with all three females receiving GPS collars. Two of the does collared in Rothrock proved to be rather feisty. One actually managed to pull the trap stakes right out of the ground flipping the trap sideways. Lucky for us, she seemed to be a little disoriented, and we managed to restrain and process her albeit in unorthodox fashion. flip trap

We were skunked again on the rocket net this week and are hoping these animals cooperate sooner rather than later. Aside from finicky deer, we also had a few weather issues to contend with. After a very warm, wet Wednesday, temperatures plummeted on Thursday and Friday. As we checked our Clover traps on these days, it appeared that roughly half of our traps were frozen stiff. Even if a deer had set foot inside and hit the trip wire, the mesh doors wouldn’t have closed properly. We estimated we maybe lost two captures from it. We expect big things next week with a big heat wave which always seems to put the deer on the move.

-Ben
Southern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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Discussion Starter #103
Spring is nearly upon us. I saw a flock of migrating robins the other day that was akin to a scene from The Birds. Song sparrows and Carolina wrens have been ramping up their morning serenades to get a jump on staking out a good territory.


I love to hear the morning chorus and the sweet chatter before the light goes out of the day. I appreciate the mix of genres, if you will, and how they define a place – a field, a wetland, a forest, a backyard. So while I delight in this spring awakening, I don’t think much about song structure, the way it travels, or how that might affect my feathered friends.

By now, I’m sure you know that this likely has something to do with deer. Of course, it does. We know that deer browsing can reduce bird abundance and browsing by herbivores can have cascading consequences. While these relationships are complex, they are tangible even if we don’t fully understand them.

Well, let’s throw another dimension into an already over-layered, multi-pronged, tangled-up web – sound. That’s right. The noise that you and I and insects and frogs and squirrels and BIRDS make every day. The structure of a forest can alter sound propagation in the forest. Do you know what can alter forest structure? Deer.

Deer-browsed habitats have greater sound fidelity than deer-excluded habitats. The difference could alter the efficacy of acoustic communication, cultural evolution (young birds learn songs from adults), or local adaptations. It may not seem like a big deal but heavily browsed habitats could affect the way birds sing in the forest. And overtime could alter those songs. Crazy!

Healthy forests aren’t just about abundant forage, adequate cover, species diversity, and soil pH. Healthy forests are seen and heard. It’s a sound stage full of wonder. Go into the woods. Be still. Close your eyes. And listen. The songs you hear today may be different from what they were in the past.

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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Discussion Starter #104
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

From the Northern Crew:

The deer totals for this week only came to two. We captured a new juvenile male and a recaptured adult male. This keeps the total adult male captures for the season just slightly above the total adult female captures. However, when it comes to the young deer, a curious trend has been developing over the weeks. While we have captured several juvenile males, we have yet to capture our first juvenile female!

As we greeted March, we also welcomed our first taste of Spring-like weather. The snow is melting up here, and although it makes spotting deer sign more challenging, we are happy the roads are beginning to clear. However, it would not be a deer-trapping week without some kind of vehicle challenge.

Following warm days and freezing nights, very thick and slick sheets of ice can still be found covering large sections of the forest roads. We found a particularly icy patch early in the week. As we were making our way down one of the steepest slopes in our area, our truck managed to slide so badly that we were fully perpendicular to the road by the time we managed to stop! A sticky situation for sure, especially when you add a trailer into the mix. We were able to make it safely to the bottom of the hill with help from the Lyman Run State Park DCNR folks [those people are a life savers].

We are starting to see an increase in deer sign around the forest. Perhaps the deer are feeling the effects of spring as well. Hopefully, we will have more captures next week. The warm weather may be an indicator that the end of the season is not so distant.

-Carolyn
Northern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section


From the Southern Crew:

Greetings from Rothrock/Bald Eagle! After a slight drop in activity last week, the deer decided to cooperate this week leading to 7 captures. We still need to deploy a few more collars to meet the quota for Bald Eagle, but we’re almost complete for Rothrock. We managed to add another collared buck, who was actually a recapture from a previous year. The processing and fixing of the collar went fine, so we were somewhat surprised when we got a notification that he was in mort mode a few days later. Lucky for us and him, we headed to the location where he was supposedly laying and found nothing. The VHF signal from his collar indicated that he was alive and a pretty fair distance away likely a simple case of collar malfunction.

Other notable captures consisted of another adult doe in Bald Eagle and our biggest deer yet in Rothrock. We hadn’t really caught anything huge all season, but we could just tell that this fella was a bruiser. Two of us got him on the ground while the rest of the crew tagged him, but he was still army-crawling out of the trap with two of us draped on him. Farewell friend, it was meeting you but please don’t come back! Outside of these, we got the usual bevy of small, slippery fawns.

Rocket netting was once again a bust this week, but at least we had deer show up this time! After a couple hours of sitting in the blind, I was peering out with the night-vision binoculars when two pairs of glowing orbs started approaching the net. It was somewhat spooky the way they were walking, their heads real low to the ground making it hard to identify them at first. My adrenaline started going like crazy thinking we might have a shot, but they didn’t stick around long. The pair never got within range but at least saw them. Baby steps, right?

With anticipated temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s this upcoming week, it’s hard to say what our success rate will be. We’ve done just fine on these warmer days before, but it’s also very reasonable to assume that our participants will be more finicky. Why risk the corn in the freaky-looking trap when there’s no snow, it’s warm, and new plant growth is starting to happen? Let’s just hope for greedy deer.

-Ben
Southern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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Discussion Starter #105
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Indian Cucumber-root and why it occurs in some places and not others. The short answer is that available resources (light, soil conditions, etc.) are important in explaining where it occurs and where it does not – besides the fact that deer like to eat it.

What I did not address in that post was competition from other species. That’s right. Just like Pennsylvanians competing for milk and bread before a winter storm, all living things are competing with other living things for resources.

The end result? You are more likely to find a species in one place rather than another! There are many different types of competition, but one thing is guaranteed – one species tends to be a winner and the other a loser.

In wildlife, we think about competition quite a bit. In fact, wildlife biologists have devised methods to measure whether one species is excluding another.

For example, we know that coyotes and fox don’t quite get along. If a coyote has an opportunity it will kill a fox. Fortunately, gray fox can climb trees (coyotes can’t) so they can vertically avoid each other when necessary. Red fox are grounded and cannot climb trees. So, red fox tend to hang out in the margins, the empty spaces between coyote territories where they are less likely to encounter them.

We can measure whether one species excludes another using what are called “occupancy models”. Occupancy models simply estimate the probability that a species occurs in a given location. If you monitor two species, you can estimate the probability that one species is present given that the other species is present or absent.

In the coyote-fox example, fox would more likely be present at a site if coyotes are absent. Speaking for myself [not for Jeannine], that is pretty cool! I can even calculate measures of precision about the estimate to indicate my confidence in the estimate [Only one of us gets excited about confidence intervals].

Coming back to plants…their competition is usually not as dramatic as the relationship between coyote and red fox, but plants locked in battle nonetheless are doing their best to exclude one another.



How are deer involved? You know they are. This is a blog about deer. Deer have been accused of causing a legacy effect in our forests. Munching their way through our forest eating their favorite plants, they open the door for less favorable plants to take their place. For example, perhaps deer eating all their favorite foods allowed less tasty plants, like mountain laurel and hay-scented fern, to take over.

Once they gain ground, mountain laurel and fern aren’t going to give up territory without a fight. They shade out sunlight preventing those tasty plants – like Indian cucumber-root – from returning. Thus, the deer browsing “legacy effect.”

Danielle Begley-Miller, a former Ph.D. student on The Deer-Forest Study, set out to study this “fight”? Is mountain laurel excluding Indian cucumber-root? She used occupancy models to learn if the presence of Indian cucumber-root was influenced by the presence of mountain laurel.

The answer? Mountain laurel can’t be bothered with Indian cucumber-root. And neither can huckleberry, another ericaceous shrub that grows densely in the forest understory.

Her conclusion? “This study demonstrates the importance of soil chemistry in shaping plant community composition in the north-central Appalachians, and suggests soil as an alternative, or additional, explanation for deer vegetation legacy effects.”

Is her work the end of the story? No. You know that over-layered, multi-pronged, tangled-up web Jeannine is always talking about? Well, this is another example. Life only gets more complicated after this.

-Duane Diefenbach
 

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Discussion Starter #106
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

From the Northern Crew:

It was a very eventful and exciting week with 14 captures! Maybe the deer are also enjoying the warmer weather. We set a new single-day capture record of four deer. Among our captures was our first juvenile female of the season! She was a feisty little deer bouncing with energy.

Even with so many successes this week, we were still disappointed when we found one of our traps flipped over. It showed lots of deer sign and the stakes had obviously been pulled loose. We suspect the thawing and softening ground had something to do with it, and we have been checking the stakes at each of our traps to avoid another missed capture. With the changing weather, we have had to close and move a couple of our traps because of water pooling in the bottom. Wet deer are not happy, and neither are wet and muddy crew members!

We had a chance to hone our telemetry skills again this week as we investigated a mortality. As we were making our way through the forest, we stumbled upon a wonderful surprise. A very small and cute saw-whet owl was perched in a dead tree less than ten feet from where I stood. As its pupils widened in surprise, I felt for sure that it would fly away. Amazingly, it stayed still and let me snap some pictures. We filed past one at a time, and it posed for all of us. At one point, it almost looked ready to fall asleep!

Among our other wildlife spots this week were a red-backed salamander and a honeybee. Spring really is here! On our trail cameras, we have also seen a fair number of turkeys, foxes, and raccoons. The turkeys especially seem to have come out of nowhere. We saw a group of 32 the other day! The icing on the cake to a great week occurred as we were moving traps and checking out new sites. I found my very first shed antler! Finding sheds has been described as finding a needle in a haystack, but other crew members found sheds the very next day! [Luck and search image ;)]

We had a great week with lots of deer and many exciting extras. Here’s to a couple more great weeks ahead!

-Carolyn
Northern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section








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From the Southern Crew:

The heat wave didn’t hold us back as much as I’d thought, as we managed to land 5 captures this week. Another skunking on the rocket net, but our Clover traps pulled through for us. We deployed two collars - one on a new doe for Bald Eagle and another on a recaptured doe for Rothrock. After looking at old capture records, this recaptured doe was first tagged in 2018 as an adult making her at least 3.5 years old now. Hopefully she continues to lead a long, healthy life providing data for the Deer-Forest Study [Note: we DO NOT want hunters to avoid shooting collared deer - if one of our collared deer can be legally harvested, and the hunter wants to do so, we encourage them to harvest the deer].

The rest of the group consisted of several recaptures including a trap-happy buck fawn in Bald Eagle and old collared doe. We haven’t had these traps sitting here for all that long, so it’s a little frustrating to be getting the same deer. Although it boosts our capture numbers, you’d think they’d learn that being trapped is an unpleasant experience. This upcoming week we plan on moving several lines to new locations to see if we can get some fresh participants.

The birds, small mammals, squirrels and raccoons seem to be hitting our bait a lot harder than earlier in the season as evidenced by down doors and no deer upon arrival. There’s no sign of deer escaping, and the tripwire is still intact leading us to think that the little masked bandits and company have their meal then chew their way out. Crazy varmints.

Only a few more weeks left. We’re pretty happy with our capture results but hoping to top 50 captures for the season over the next few weeks.

-Ben
Southern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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Discussion Starter #107
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

I was doing some research for a writing project I have coming due (too soon!) about the future of ungulate population management. The project made me think of Jeannine’s post about public lands and a book I read recently.

The National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, a survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Census Bureau in partnership with all 50 state wildlife agencies about every 10 years, is a wealth of information about hunting and hunters. The most recent survey was conducted in 2016.

Here are some big game hunting (deer, elk, and wild turkey) stats in the U.S.:

There are 9.2 million of us (with 8.1 million of us hunting deer)
We spend $14.8 billion
We average 14 days of hunting per hunter
Impressive. But what’s more interesting is where we live and where we hunt:

45% of us lived in an urban area compared to 82% of the U.S. population
But this fact is really important:

38% of hunters lived in a city of 50,000 or more and 86% of them hunted on public land
The number of deer hunters has seen an inexorable decline over the past 30 years. I’m not suggesting more public land is the cure, but it appears to be important to hunters. I know it certainly is to me!

Today many of us take our public lands for granted but they weren’t always a part of the landscape.

Pennsylvania has its own unique history. After its forests were stripped by the early 1900s, many landowners simply walked away and stopped paying taxes. The state picked them up and now we have the state forests and parks that we love today.

Nationally, it’s a different story. I can’t tell it here, but it starts with visionaries like Henry David Thoreau and George Perkins Marsh. Their ideas were the seed that led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

The history of our public lands is tied directly to our hunting heritage. From our ideas about public lands came our approach to wildlife and who owns it – and vice versa. All students who want to become wildlife biologists learn about this (or at least I hope they do!).

If you’d like to learn about how Yellowstone National Park was created, how Teddy Roosevelt played a critical role in our public lands, and how Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can cure your soul, I have a book for you. Don’t worry it’s not a stats or a modeling book so you won’t be bored to tears. And if you are sequestered at home, it might give you the escape you need.

Mark Kenyon, outdoor writer and hunting influencer (Full disclosure: he interviewed yours truly) wrote a book about his adventures on public lands. Like reading our Deer Crew Diaries, you can live vicariously through his travels across the country. As a hunter himself, his perspective should resonate with many of our blog readers while giving insight into the history of our public lands.

-Duane Diefenbach
 

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Discussion Starter #108
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

From the Northern Crew:

With fourteen captures, it was another big trapping week! Our single biggest capture day this season is four captures, and we had two four-deer days this week. We had 2 successful rocket nets launches – one was on a bitterly cold night and the other had us up at 0400. Morning rocket sittings are a welcome change to our normal late nights. We heard geese honking, ducks quacking, and a nearby woodcock display. We even saw a bobcat walk across the field, which we initially mistook for a deer!

Our biggest challenge this week came in the form of a flat tire. I had only changed one tire previously (during last year’s season!), and the rest of the crew had no experience. We managed to figure it out together. Here’s to new experiences and life skills!

The air is still a bit chilly at times, but more signs of spring are appearing every day. The first flowers are starting to bloom; moss, ferns, and clover are appearing everywhere; and we even spotted frog eggs in a small pool! The ducks are out and about - hooded mergansers, mallards, and some common mergansers as well!

We are still going strong hoping to trap for a little while longer. I would like to give a special shout out to Andrew, a volunteer who joined us for several days this week! We had a lot going on and appreciated the help!

-Carolyn
Northern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section

From the Southern Crew:

While the whole world comes to a screeching halt due to the threat of COVID-19, deer trapping marches on. However, the deer are no longer cooperating as we had a season low of 2 captures this week. With the warmer weather, I guess it’s to be expected that the risk of entering the traps is beginning to outweigh the reward of a free meal. spring flower

Aside from those couple of captures, one of our collared does sent us on a wild goose chase in Bald Eagle. I had received a mortality email with GPS coordinates where her carcass and/or collar was supposedly laying. So the crew and I headed out to investigate. When we got the truck as close as we possibly could, we were still about a mile away from the location. Just to double check, we broke out the telemetry gear to see if we could pick her up. The pulse of the collar was beeping very rapidly indicating that she should indeed be dead. Fortunately, we were able to follow a decent trail, but the terrain was incredibly steep. I think she was more mountain goat than white-tailed deer.

Upon arrival, we found no sign of her, despite the apparent mortality signal. So we trekked back up the mountain, and picked her up with telemetry. This time we really homed in on her to see if we could get a visual. We got fairly close then heard brush cracking. The direction of the signal followed. Although we never laid eyes on her, I think it’s safe to assume she is in fact alive and well. We’ll just have to keep an eye on her and hope the collar corrects itself.

One of the more exciting things we saw this week was in no way related to deer. When we were checking traps at the end of the week, we saw this long brown creature slinking along a drainage ditch. It was hard to identify at first, but the giant weasel waited long enough for us to get an excellent sighting! Not long enough to get a picture, but very cool nonetheless. I didn’t know how robust fisher populations were in the southern half of PA. I wonder how many more are slinking around out there?

-Ben
Southern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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Discussion Starter #109
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The state of current affairs has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives. No parties, no playgrounds, no races, no restaurants, no concerts, no conferences! All of us are quite familiar with the term social distancing now.

Social distancing is not a new concept to those in public health or anyone who deals with disease issues. Sure, it all seems extreme as we have never had to address this type of public health crisis before but this is a common strategy to slow (and hopefully stop) the spread of disease.

I am fascinated by disease and its management. I probably should have been a disease ecologist, but I had no idea that was even a thing. As a wildlife biologist, I still get to dabble. Deer have lots of interesting afflictions.

Big ones, of course, are chronic wasting disease (CWD) and bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Both contagious, transmitted directly between animals and from doorknobs (i.e. the environment). However, there are lots of infectious diseases and parasites deer can get. Lice, mites, hemorrhagic disease, lung worm, cutanious fibroma, rabies, pseudorabies, dermatophilosis, brucellosis – should I go on?

What is a wildlife biologist’s first response to any of these diseases? Social distancing! Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t have a term for it, but I sure do now. Many diseases, if not all, are exacerbated and perpetuated by the congregation of animals.

Why?

You’ve probably heard about R0 (R naught) in the news. It’s a measure of how contagious a disease is. If that value is less than 1 (i.e. 1 infected deer infects less than 1 other deer), the infection cannot be sustained in the population and it disappears. If it equals 1, the disease hangs around but doesn’t get out of control. If it is greater than 1, one infection causes multiple new infections and an outbreak or epidemic is possible.

The whole point of socially distancing is to reduce the R0 value. Keeping an infected deer away from healthy deer will prevent transmission, lower the R0 value, and hopefully the infection will peter out or stabilize.

Deer suck at social distancing. Always carpooling when traveling, visiting the neighbors, going out to eat, combing each other’s hair – you never see a deer alone and they rarely follow the 6-feet-apart rule! This makes things much worse. Indeed, all evidence from the self-sustaining bTB infection in free-ranging deer in Michigan points to high deer densities and concentration caused by feeding.

How do wildlife managers mandate social distancing in a social animal?

Close the restaurants and bars. While deer still can go out to obtain essential items, YOU must close your facility. That’s right – STOP FEEDING DEER.

Sharing corn-filled plates and licking the same mineral lollipop are sure to keep any nasty bug going (Hello Michigan). And I can guarantee that no deer covers its cough or sneeze at a corn pile.

The second way wildlife managers can enforce social distancing with species like deer is to have fewer of them. Reducing the population reduces the contact rate among individuals especially those that are infected. This is probably the most effective tool we have in combatting wildlife disease outbreaks. This strategy was used to fight bTB in deer in Minnesota and in badgers in England.

Like many, I have been following the current human pandemic closely and I couldn’t help but see some parallels with Pennsylvania’s most talked about wildlife pandemic, CWD.

CWD is like COVID-19 in super-slow motion. Even with hundreds of new cases every day, it was still difficult for state and federal agencies to enact public health strategies to slow COVID-19 down. With an incubation period of 18-24 months, CWD moves much slower but action still needs to be taken. Pennsylvania is on track to double its total number of CWD positives in just one year.

The current public health crisis rightly overshadows any wildlife disease issue. Hopefully, actions taken will reduce R0 – people’s lives are depending on it. But human health is wrapped up in wildlife health. Over 40% of emerging human parasite and pathogens originate in wildlife, not to mention the conservation challenges it raises (e.g. white-nose syndrome).

The answers are never easy and always cause inconvenience, unhappiness, pain, and hardship. Fewer deer do not make hunters happy. Canceling a race for which I’ve been training 3 months does not make me happy. A better tomorrow sometimes means a completely terrible today.

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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Discussion Starter #110
https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

From the Northern Crew:

It was another decent deer capture week with 9 total captures. For some reason, we have seen an increase in juveniles. We have captured ten juvenile females in the past two weeks. Previously, we had one little girl the whole season. Whatever the reason, we are happy to still be consistently catching deer despite bouts of warmer weather.

Speaking of the weather, we were caught a little off guard this week when the forest was suddenly white again. We were enjoying the respite from frozen fingers, icy roads, and the almost unbearable chill of dry winter air, but mother nature hadSpring snow other plans. The new blossoms and green grass we were growing accustomed to seeing around the forest were covered in a couple inches of snow. This time however, after only a few days, the landscape once again took on the signs of spring. Unfortunately, the floors of our traps were made even muddier than before.

Wildlife seem unfazed by the random snowstorms and cold mornings. Even the frogs and newts are out! We hear the vocalizations of the wood frogs inhabiting nearby vernal pools while checking trap lines. We heard what must have been hundreds of wood frogs on night at a rocket net. But we have yet to see one. The spring peepers are even tuning up for the season. The welcome sounds of spring are all around.

Although we are optimistic, we except deer activity to noticeably decrease any day now. For the time being, we are realizing that any one of our captures could be the last. The finality makes each capture even more special, but the season isn’t over yet.

-Carolyn
Northern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section



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From the Southern Crew:

Mud season is upon us! Although conditions have been pretty soft for most of the season, the consistent showers recently have made life rather interesting in the Clover traps. A captured deer seems to immediately result in a 5-inch deep mud pit. Conditions for which Carrhart bibs were not designed. Couple that with the fact that these critters are shedding their winter coats, and you have yourself a tarred and feathered deer trapper! [This maybe the best description of spring deer trapping I’ve ever heard]

Things remained slow this week with only 3 total captures (2 recaps/1 new). One new deer was a particularly feisty doe; she managed to shred Eduardo’s rain jacket and add several gashes to his bibs. It’s hard to think of those serene, peaceful animals grazing in the meadow as capable of inflicting such damage, and yet those hooves are quite effective weapons.

We came very close to having a successful rocket capture this week, probably about 30 seconds from firing if it wasn’t for a very cagey doe. She approached the set up but was on edge the whole time. She knew something was a little fishy. Instead of getting within range, she snorted warning every other deer in the vicinity to flee [I’ve name called more than one doe for doing this at a trap site].

We made what is most likely our last trap transfer of the season. We did manage to find some new spots that had plenty of abundant sign, but we’ve learned that’s not always a guarantee for success. We anticipate next week being the last full week of trapping. Although we’re limping to the finish, we only need a few more deer to break 50 captures for the season. C’mon deer!

-Ben
Southern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research...Feed:+deer-forest-blog+(The+Deer-Forest+Blog)

From the Northern Crew:

We had seven captures this week, a decent number for so late in the season. We got word this week that the season would be officially ending. As much as we wish we could continue, we are very grateful to have been able to trap as long as we did especially given the current situation in the world.

Our captures this week included a very small doe and an adult buck. The silly little girl was a recapture from a couple weeks prior. She immediately seemed familiar to us given her small stature and feisty attitude. The adult male deer who has already started re-growing his antlers probably just shed his last pair [indeed, new antlers can start to grow in 2-weeks of the old ones being cast!].

We rocket-netted a couple times. Although we were unsuccessful at catching deer, we did get to hear and see many other woodland creatures. The woodcocks are very active right now, busy with their courtship rituals. We listened to several of them call off and on for the duration of our sit. At times, they were only a few feet away from our blind.

Some will be happy to hear that the turkeys are out in force! We have been seeing them occasionally throughout the season, but they were everywhere this week. Even along major roads! Males could be seen strutting about in full feather-display mode. Several frequented our rocket net. The males were busy showing off, but the hens were definitely more interested in the corn.

We had a great team building experience this week as the crew set-up a tree stand for the first time. We realized that one rocket net site did not have a suitable ground vantage point. We weren’t successful at catching any deer from that site, but the view was great. And the other wildlife that passed through helped me forget how uncomfortable the seat was.

This was our last full week as a crew. With just a few days left, there is still plenty to do and hopefully a few more memorable moments.

-Carolyn
Northern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section



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From the Southern Crew:

Springtime is here, the last week of trapping is complete, and the 2020 season is in the books! We ended with a pretty solid week by southern standards with a total of 6 captures which netted us 54 for the season. The strange thing is that we managed only bucks this week, no does at all. It seems kind of bizarre, but it’s just sheer coincidence. clover catch

We captured what seemed to be all age classes, ranging from a fawn to what was most likely our biggest deer of the season. He was big enough that he couldn’t really move too much inside the trap, but he locked his legs in place and was just stubborn. He was a real bruiser. And while he was quite difficult to bring down, he behaved like a true gentleman once we got him on the ground. I stand behind my declaration that the most difficult deer to restrain is the yearling/medium sized deer. They’re small enough to have space to maneuver inside the trap and kick their legs out at you, yet still have the size and heft to throw you around. Good times in the octagon!!

We will work a few days next week to bring all the traps and return them to storage. Then that’s a wrap for the crew members. I must commend the crew for a job well done this season. It can be tough sledding at times down in Rothrock/Bald Eagle, particularly when the critters just aren’t cooperating. However, I believe we had a successful season, and they handled the various difficulties (monotonous dry spells without captures, bad weather, large mammals that really don’t want to be messed with) with a positive attitude and were willing to do whatever it took to get the job done. The whole COVID-19 pandemic throws a wrench in planning for future employment, but I wish them all the best in their future endeavors, and I know they’ll do a fine job wherever they land.

-Ben
Southern Crew Leader
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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https://deer.psu.edu/drum-roll-please/?utm_source=SpecificFeeds&utm_medium=email

Welcome to the new Deer-Forest Study website!

deer.psu.edu

For months, we’ve been working behind the scenes to migrate all our content to a brand spanking new page. Over the past 6 years we published over 500 blog posts, not counting the other pages associated with the project. Fixing broken links, tracking down missing graphs and YouTube videos, and learning a new platform has been quite the experience but we hope you find the end result is definitely worth it!

Some of the cool new features:

Search – you can now search all our blog posts for any term you like which should make things easier to find.
Tags! – that’s right we can now tag posts. Weather, hunting, antlers, #rut, and more. Remember we have over 500 posts and will be working to tag them over time. That should make your searches more productive.
Facebook free – The blog is no longer tied to Facebook which means you don’t need a Facebook account to comment and engage!
Posts by Topic – with over 500 posts, even I forget what we’ve written about!
YouTube viewing for all of us – and by that, I mean older eyes. You can now view videos FULL screen. You will only be excited about this if you are over 40.
Take a look around. We still have some housekeeping to do but if you find anything that is broken, let us know at [email protected].
 

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Spidey Sense

https://www.deer.psu.edu/spidey-sense/?utm_source=SpecificFeeds&utm_medium=email

MAY 8, 2020
Spiderman’s ability to sense impending disaster is uncanny. It is believed that this predictive power is shared by the white-tailed deer with regards to a looming winter storm. Granted, white-tailed deer don’t have superhuman strength and web shooters. But if they could sense oncoming storms, they could use it to their advantage by increasing food intake and finding shelter before the storm hit. That would be a pretty awesome power!

If white-tailed deer can predict a storm, is it a learned behavior or something more instinctive with a genetic basis perhaps influencing survival rates?

In the Centre County region of Pennsylvania, winters are characterized by temperatures of 10.4°- 39.2°F with average wind speeds of 4.9 miles per hour and snowfall of 45 inches per year. Winter storms occur with the passing of a cold front. These fronts are associated with a drop in barometric pressure, colder temperatures, high winds, and precipitation. Does this make that Spidey sense tingle?

In the winter months, white-tailed deer minimize energy expenditure and actually lose weight. One way to minimize energy loss is to decrease overall movement in addition to physiological changes.

Conventional wisdom is that deer are more likely to feed before the onset of a winter storm. According to a poll of our readership (n = 1,668), 48% of respondents said that deer are more active 24 hours before a cold front arrives and 34% of individuals stated that deer are more active 24 hours before and after a cold front arrives.

My prediction was similar to popular opinion. If deer have a Spidey sense, they should increase movement 24 hours before onset of a winter storm, decrease during the storm, and then increase for 24 hours after the storm.

To test this, I identified winter storm events and analyzed hourly locations of adult female deer (> 2 years old) fitted with GPS satellite collars from January through April 2015–2017. Identification of a winter storm cold front is based on the wind shifting from S-SW to W-NW, increasing wind speeds, temperature drops, and a sudden rise in barometric pressure after a drop. Local weather data were used to spot these patterns.

Thirty storm patterns and 52,279 GPS locations from 4 deer in 2016 and 8 deer in 2017 were used to measure Spidey sense.

Distance each deer moved per hour were calculated and hours denoting time periods that were before, during, or after a storm were identified. I then tested whether the mean speed differed 24 hours before, during, and 24 hours after a storm while comparing them to periods where no storm was present.

In 2016, average speed was 105 yds/hr – speed Before a storm was approximately 102 yds/hr, During = 113 yds/hr, After = 111 yds/hr; No storm =102 yds/hr.

In 2017, average speed was 102 yds/hr – speed before a storm was approximately 105 yds/hr, during = 98 yds/hr, after = 94 yds/hr; No storm = 111 yds/hr. Looking at the movements of individual deer in 2016, a clear pattern is not evident. The graphs below are for 2016 of 3 deer during a single storm event. The next graph has point estimates (with 95% confidence intervals) of mean speed before, during, after, and no storm.



Although there are spikes of increased activity before a storm, there is no significant evidence to suggest that movement consistently increases before a storm event (light blue frame on left). In fact, speed before a storm is similar to no storm. Deer do display reductions in movement during a storm and possibly after as well (yellow frame in middle).

Results for 2017 are consistent with that of 2016. Interesting to note that Deer 17168 (blue line) shows a spike in movement during a storm. Again, estimates of mean speed show similar activity rates before a storm and when no storm is present.



Data show no statistical or biological significance of oncoming winter storms on behavior or movement of our collared deer.

Alas, it appears deer do not have a Spidey sense. White-tailed deer do have a bunch of other cool characteristics that probably do fall under “superhero” status but predicting oncoming winter storms just isn’t one of them.

–Dana Arnold
Class of 2021
Wildlife and Fisheries Science
 

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https://www.deer.psu.edu/tough-love/?utm_source=SpecificFeeds&utm_medium=email

It looks like someone is having a bad day. She is taking it out on the younger deer. Ears back and hooves thrashing – deer talk for she’s not in the mood and best not to be on the receiving end!

What on earth could be causing such a foul attitude?

Behavior like this is often observed by our field techs when sitting over rocket nets in winter. Dominant deer will kick and chase lower-ranked deer over access to bait. But I guarantee there’s no bait in front of my camera and there’s plenty of natural food this time of year.

It may feel like early April but it’s in fact late May! Momma is getting ready for a big day. In less than 2 weeks, half of this year’s fawns will have been born.

We’re probably seeing an adult doe clearly telling other deer, including her offspring, that she needs some space. About 30-40% of button bucks will be dispersing over the next few weeks – some already have. Even some female fawns will be leaving home because of mom’s temperament.

Self-isolation. It’s not just for COVID-19 infected humans. Pregnant females tend to stay by themselves right before they give birth to fawns because it’s a strategy to maximize the chances of survival of their newborns.

Of course, I can’t say for sure that’s the reason for the behavior in this video. Maybe those fawns were just ticking her off or maybe she was just having a bad day. But if I could get DNA from each deer and determine their relatedness, I bet I could find evidence to support my explanation.

All winter I’ve been watching groups of bucks and doe traveling together. Now that fawns are starting to drop that communal behavior will be on hiatus for a while.

Late-term does may be the only deer successful at social distancing.
 

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https://www.deer.psu.edu/where-are-they-now/?utm_source=SpecificFeeds&utm_medium=email


A couple of months ago blog reader, R Bugden, asked if we might give an update on some of the students and technicians that have passed through the deer research program over the years. We thought it was a great idea! I dug up as many emails as I could find and hit send. Here’s what came back:

April Sperfslage (Crew Leader 2015-2018)

April with king snake
I am currently working in Louisiana as a biologist-contractor with Colorado State University on a military base. I assist in monitoring game populations on the property. Overall, I have taken an interest in and focus heavily on bobwhite ecology and habitat use and am currently in the process working on a research proposal to test seasonal importance of habitat treatment applications to bobwhites. I am still lucky to have variety in my daily work schedule. I am involved in everything from reptile and amphibian surveys to southern flying squirrel trapping to dealing with nuisance alligators. While this is a permanent position, I am still exploring options for graduate school. I have interviewed for a few positions, but no bites yet. Life has been good overall though, so I can’t complain!

Dr. Danielle Begley-Miller (Graduate Student)

The better question would be what am I not doing now?!

Danielle at work at Teatown
I’m the Director of Science and Stewardship at Teatown Lake Reservation, a 1,000 acre non-profit nature preserve located in the Lower Hudson Valley, NY (read more at: https://www.teatown.org/). I run all of our science research while directing Teatown’s land management. My team and I are responsible for monitoring and managing Teatown’s wildlife, three lakes, 15-miles of trails, 22-acres of restored meadows, and invasive species (I miss the relatively uninvaded PA forests!). I also adjunct at Pace University where I teach and mentor both graduate and undergraduate students.

I really do look fondly back at my time at Penn State, including fieldwork (despite the many bruises after dense bush-wacking and the very long days). I always slept best after long days in the field.

Hannah White (Crew Leader 2015-2017)

Thank you for prompting a stroll down memory lane. To this day, my time in Pennsylvania is some of my most cherished. Something about those Appalachian Mountains and the camaraderie among fellow deer wranglers. I miss it often. Still the best “job” I’ve had the pleasure of doing. Thank you.

Hannah in Oregon
After Pennsylvania, I spent two summers chasing sage grouse through the vast expanses of high desert in eastern Oregon, then one year conducting thesis research on Blanding’s turtles in Illinois, before transferring to the University of Minnesota, where I am now finishing up a master’s in GIS. I spent last summer working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on a lake sturgeon project, and following graduation next month, I will be heading to Alaska for a permanent position with USFWS again as a Data Management Specialist.

The Susquehannock will always hold a special place in my heart. But above all, it’s the friendships that I hold “deer.” Cheers to PA, and all those still on the frontlines of field research.

Nathan Kluge (Crew Leader 2017-2018)

Nate with bear cubs in WI
Since being crew leader in the north, I spent a year and a half as Wisconsin DNR’s statewide wolf biologist where I coordinated all wolf research efforts across the state. It was an amazing position to have, but I left in order to pursue a Master’s degree back at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point where I did my undergrad. I am now investigating the influence of hard mast production on Wisconsin’s black bear harvest. This project has brought me back to my roots as a black bear biologist aide in PA when I was trapping bears in Rothrock and Bald Eagle for the fawn study. The experiences that I received while working in PA on the deer study were huge assets to getting to where I am today. I really enjoyed all of the skills and experience that I gained while in PA trapping deer, capturing fawns and capturing black bears.

Maureen Kinlan (Crew Leader 2017)


Currently, I’m finishing up my Master’s project at Kansas State University. We just finished our final year of adult capture. In total we aerially caught and GPS/VHF collared 180 does (90 white-tailed and 90 mule deer) and 111 males (mixture of mule deer and white-tailed deer) over three years. My portion of the project focuses on the males. To put it broadly my three chapters include: space use (home range and core-use area, sizes and interspecific overlap), movement patterns with an emphasis on rut and the influence of hunting, and resource selection. I’m hoping to defend my thesis early this fall. I have one more field season of fawning here before I can do that! I realized the other day it will be my fourth summer in a row catching fawns!

Tess Gingery (Graduate Student)

Tess with her dog
After the fawn survival project ended, I graduated with my Master’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science in spring of 2018. Since then I have been employed by the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State and work with the Pennsylvania Game Commission as the Data Manager for statewide capture and GPS monitoring efforts. I miss working with the fawn crews and waking up to emails alerting me that a brand-new baby fawn had been born in the night! Thankfully, I stay in touch with many of the wonderful people that worked on the Deer-Forest project over the years.

Tony Del Valle (Crew Member 2016 & 2017)

Tony with gold finch
After my time in PA, I moved on to a number of different wildlife tech positions in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, mostly involving bird research and conservation. I’ve known birds were a passion of mine even before working with the deer crew, and I have been fortunate to be able to focus my career towards ornithological conservation and research. I am currently a first-year Master’s student at Northern Illinois University. My thesis research focuses on studying the impact of reintroduced bison and prescribed fire on grassland birds in tallgrass prairie preserves in IL and IN.
 

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https://www.deer.psu.edu/best-of-ti...es/?utm_source=SpecificFeeds&utm_medium=email


As I stalked former students and field crew members for their whereabouts and life happenings, I asked them to share their best, worst, or most memorable time in Penn’s woods. Here’s what they had to say about that!

April Sperfslage (Crew Leader 2015-2018)

Overall, I miss the team and life-long friends I found within the PGC. Also, all of the amazing property owners I worked with (truly–saints). Probably, just as equally, I miss studying Pennsylvania deer and becoming familiar with the background and activity patterns of many of the study deer. I remember the crazy, exciting, yet stressful adrenaline rush of rocket net captures, and then the overall feeling of success and contentment when each deer got up and left our capture sites. I loved sitting in the blinds and observing deer, even if they thwarted our capture attempts over and over again.

I DO NOT miss the late nights, minimal sleep I maintained during capture seasons, and during some seasons, the feeling of what seemed like I was working 24/7 and sometimes not wanting to stop working. I have been able to grow as an individual, personally and professionally, with all the free time I have at home now! Say what!?

Dr. Danielle Begley-Miller (Graduate Student)

My best memory in the woods was the time me and my field technician gorged ourselves on black raspberries for two straight days at one of the best places in Rothrock state forest. I have never been so fat or happy as I was for those two days despite having to walk through those brambles.

Worst memory? Or perhaps the funniest? Gosh I have a lot…

There was the time I was in Bald Eagle near Red Ridge. Our usual day involved hiking to the vegetation survey plot, dropping our extra gear, getting a few subplots sampled, and then breaking for lunch. We had been surveying for about an hour when I returned to the bag spot to find my entire lunch devoured by a bear. I was only 120 feet away at the time and never even heard a sound. We gathered up what was left (my pyrex and hummus were saved!), looked around a bit, didn’t see the bear, and figured it got what it wanted and was long gone. After taking a quick lunch/snack break, we proceeded to walk on the south side of the plot through the dense mountain laurel to continue surveying, only to find the bear about 100 yards away. We weren’t about to tempt fate twice, so we packed up and came back a few weeks later to finish up.


Or there was the time I got the truck stuck in a creek without cell service. A stranger with a dog was walking down the narrow road. In my attempt to give them a wide birth, the road bank gave way and the truck got stuck (4WD and the stranger were no help). After 8+ hours in the field, we bushwacked for over a mile up the steepest ridge to find cell service. We got out one text message, and then made our way back down so Duane could tow us out. It was after 9pm by the time he got there (a 14-hour day for us). He brought Gatorade and pizza. It was the best pizza I had ever tasted.

Hannah White (Crew Leader 2015-2017)

There are almost too many funny stories to even begin to mention (and some I probably shouldn’t ;-).

Hiking to the top of our aptly dubbed “Mount Everest” to investigate a mort – it seems deer always died in the most inconvenient of places (perhaps their last ditch effort at revenge).

Patrick getting trampled by our first monster buck in a Clover trap while we watched in horror, “…I feel like we should do something?” We learned to henceforth have a backup tackler on-deck.

Using our code word for fawn over the truck-to-truck radio: “Houston, we got a CORN DOG!”

Forging our way through briar patches from **** in search of deer poop… I think we can all agree Poo Patrol is undoubtedly the most noble (and glamorous) of scientific endeavors.

As someone who had never been in a deer stand before, I will never forget my first time firing a rocket-net, the sound of my heart beating out of my chest (so loudly I thought for sure the deer could hear it too) as I watched a group of deer come out of the woods just before dusk, make their way onto the bait, heads down, and then KA-BOOM! On Valentine’s Day of all days. Goes to show, deer can be sweet too.

And who could forget our endless saga of truck repairs? Be it corn in the engine from pesky mice hoarding our bait, or the back window of the truck cap hanging on by a thread. At one point, in a series of unfortunate events, we were down 2 (of only 3) trucks, and ended up with all 5 of us, plus a volunteer (that’s 6 grown adults) packed into one truck checking traplines. Quality bonding time right there, folks.

Wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

[To read about Hannah’s adventures as a crew leader, go back to the very first Deer Crew Diary! She wrote 3 years worth.]

Maureen Kinlan (Crew Leader 2017)

By far what I miss most about working for the PA Game Commission is how much fun we all had catching and collaring fawns. Although, it is a close tie because I also absolutely loved and really miss helping catch and process black bears. I was fortunate to really enjoy working with everyone on the crew and I absolutely loved the study area. Such an absolutely stunning place to work. Another great memory was when I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to assist with collaring a bull elk. Best day ever.

Tony Del Valle (Crew Member 2016-2017)

I look back fondly on a lot of the memories made while working in PA. Trapping deer was a rewarding experience, but it also a tiring one (the combo of harsh weather, long hours, and restraining deer takes its toll after a while!). I think my favorite experience were opening traps on Sundays. This was in general a more laid back task and it allowed ample time for taking in the beauty of the Susquehannock.
 

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https://www.deer.psu.edu/momchalant/?utm_source=SpecificFeeds&utm_medium=email

Momchalant
JUNE 1, 2020
Anyone who has attended a baby shower of a first-time mother knows that things can be a bit…over the top. Gift registries with carefully researched and selected items; “wish, hope, and dream” cards; onesie decorating stations; baby bingo – You’ve heard of bridezilla. Well, the quest for perfection in planning isn’t limited to brides and weddings. The prospect of shaping a new life from scratch seems to overwhelm the brain.

fawn curled in poison ivy
You might also be familiar with the second-time-around mother – aka, Momchalant. Wise beyond those 9 months, she knows that nothing goes as planned. And more amazingly, the world doesn’t end as a result. She knows that a baby is unimpressed with a carefully curated nursery theme. And, as long as you don’t drop him or her, nothing else is a big deal either. The difference between Momzilla and Momchalant is striking.

Deer seem to have this affliction as well. The majority of does breed for the first time as yearlings and give birth as 2 year olds. In Pennsylvania, only 26% of fawns (6 months old) breed, although it varies greatly among management units. Thus, Momzillas are overwhelmingly 2 years old. Decades of research on maternal investment and fawn rearing success has shown us that these first-time mothers are less successful at getting junior to kindergarten than older, more experienced mothers.

There are likely several contributing factors for Momchalant’s superior baby-raising skills. First and foremost is experience. We all know that mom is the decision maker. When asking dad for permission, his answer usually is ‘what did your mother say.’ Does control fawn bedsite habitat, movement patterns, social relationships, and predator evasive tactics. Fawns born to older does tend to survive longer and that’s in no small part to her ability to protect and defend them. New moms have none of this worldly experience and are at a disadvantage.

Momchalants also like to throw their weight around. Natal weight is related to maternal age. Older mothers produce larger fawns than first-time mothers. Bigger babies have a leg up when it comes to disease, starvation, and predation. And when you’re brand new in the world, this edge may tip the scale in your favor.

The good news is Momzillas quickly transition to Momchalants. And they are good at what they do for their whole life. Because successfully raising babies becomes their full-time job. One study showed the lowest pregnancy rates (87.5%) and fetus counts (1.3) for yearling does. Compare that to does 2.5-15.5 years old with more than 96% pregnancy rates and 1.8 fetuses/doe. In fact, pregnancy rates for 8.5-15.5 year-olds was 98.5%!

No misplaced binky or knockoff baby wipes ruffles their feathers. They know it’s just a baby and as long as they feed them and chase away the bad guys, everything will be just fine.

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section
 

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Do not subscribe
JUNE 9, 2020
Let’s face it. There is a lot going on in the world and our country right now. But our blog is about deer. Something that is not very important in the grand scheme of things.
But I read something recently that sparked a thought and touched a nerve. There is a grand untruth we are taught to believe, and it is this: if our actions cannot single-handedly change something, then it is not worth acting at all. Indeed, how many times have I heard this phrase uttered, “Why bother, it won’t change anything.”
I’m not a fan of this falsehood much to the chagrin of others at times. What difference does it make if I throw this one plastic bottle in the trash instead of the recycle bin? Why stop and move that turtle safely across the road? Yes, I have dug bottles and cans out of the trash and stopped more than once to usher a box turtle across the road. Does it make a difference? It does to me and that turtle!
As a biologist who focuses on the management of a population, I spend much of my time looking at the forest rather than individual trees. Can the harvest of a single deer by a hunter change the character of a population? Not by much. But the single actions of many can. This is how management works. This is how single actions add up to change.
Once upon a time in Pennsylvania, deer were nearly extirpated from the state. It took about 300 years for colonization to do that. It only took about 30 years to bring them back. There was a shift in the collective hunter mentality and wildlife management policy over that period. It spawned the birth of state wildlife agencies, federal legislation, and the establishment of USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units. These things did not happen overnight and were not the result of one person. It was the tide of the collective that transformed wildlife management. It laid the groundwork for the research we do today.
The Deer-Forest Study while a large and long-term research project will not single-handedly change the way we manage forests or deer. If you’re a long time reader of this blog, you know how complex deer, forests, soil chemistry, and the interactions among them can be. However, we are not discouraged in our quest to understand and, where we can, improve.
buckthorn on Diefenbach homestead
It looks like crabapple, but it’s not! Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) spreads its seeds by enticing birds to eat the fruit but unripe fruit causes them to vomit (a ‘cathartic’ is a purgative drug). Identify buckthorn by the thorn at the end of the twig – that’s not a crabapple!
Every year Duane has his own private crusade against autumn olive, multiflora rose, and buckthorn (to name a few!) on his small piece of heaven. Does removing invasive species from 27 acres on a landscape that harbors multitudes of invasives make a difference?
Aldo Leopold's chair at the ShackAldo Leopold’s chair
at The Shack
I’d bet my bank account Aldo Leopold’s answer would be a resounding YES! He and his family toiled away on a 264 acre “worn out farm” planting more than 40,000 trees. In the early years, Dust Bowl conditions caused more than 95% of those planted to die. Was it worth it? If you’ve ever visited that “worn out farm” in Baraboo, WI as I have, the answer is clear. The actions of the individual matter.
Do not subscribe to the myth that our individual actions can’t amount to change. That myth fuels complacency…and the status quo.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across waters to create many ripples.”
Mother Teresa
I will continue to act “alone” digging in trash cans and stopping on the shoulder of the road regardless of an “insignificant” outcome. Who knows how many others are causing ripples? All those ripples can create a powerful wave.
-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

Addendum, June 10, 2020:
As if on cue, I found this lovely on my morning walk. She was alert and on the move. It was only a dirt road so I gave her a slight assist. Her shell was a bit misshapen, a reminder of a past injury…or victory! More ripples 🙂
 

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Discussion Starter #119

Growing Bones and Babies
JUNE 19, 2020
You are what you eat – and deer depend on the quality of the plants they consume to survive, grow, and reproduce.
One of the more difficult tasks in the Deer-Forest Study is collecting soil and vegetation data. You read that correctly. Don’t get me wrong, trapping deer is no picnic but sampling soils comes with its own set of challenges.
Hiking to randomly selected locations regardless of terrain, hauling pounds of sampling gear in, then pounds of soil samples plus gear out makes for a lot of hard work.
One of the graduate students on The Deer-Forest Study, Nico Navarro, studied both the soil properties on our study areas and forage nutrient content. He found lots of interesting relationships. One I found particularly intriguing was the calcium (Ca) to phosphorus (P) ratio (CA:p).
The ratio of Ca and P in plants has implications for ungulates. The ideal ratio is 1.5-2.0:1. If there is excessive P then uptake of Ca in the digestive system reduced and the animal will metabolize calcium and phosphorus from its skeleton.
In spring, forbs are the LGS (little green stuff) on the forest floor and comprise 36-75% of a deer’s diet. Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) alone might be as much as 25% of the diet.
Nico found that the Ca:p ratio in Canada mayflower (and some other forbs) changes over time.
The ratio in early spring is ideal – 2:1 – but P declines over time such that by late summer, the ratio can be as high as 7.5 to 1.
graph showing Ca and P over time

Do you know what deer are doing in spring and early summer? Growing antlers and pumping out gallons of milk. Both of which require increased amounts of calcium and phosphorus.
If you have a good memory, you may recall that antlers don’t actually calcify until mid-July after those ideal ratios. So how can bucks take advantage of this ideal ratio for antler growth? They put it in the bank. Increased absorption efficiency allows for the incorporation of Ca and P into the skeleton for later transport to the antlers!

There is no bank for females. Over 30% of their P and 15% of their Ca budgets go straight to milk production. And while that 2:1 ratio is ideal, as long as each of those minerals are at sufficient levels performance (lactation and growth) are not affected between 0.6:1 to 6:1.

Fascinating how plants and animals have evolved to capitalize on the ideal ratio in early spring just as lactation demands in females are at their highest – and antler growth is rapid.
More interconnectedness and complexity – it is a system with many pieces. Thinking that humans know everything about how to manipulate it for their own benefit may be a bit of an overreach.
 

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Discussion Starter #120
It depends…
JUNE 30, 2020
Two people independently sent me the same research paper a couple of months ago. The title – Synergistic Population Density and Environmental Effects on Deer Body Condition. Sounds like a real nail biter, I know.
I’m always looking for something to share on the blog, so I thought I’d take a look. I read the abstract in March. What does that tell you? Last week I decided to give it another go. This time I skipped the abstract.
Biology is fascinating. If you are reading this, I’m sure you share that sentiment as well. But the synergism of population density and environmental factors aren’t really that romantic. Or maybe they are?
As managers, we look to our critters to tell us what is going on in the world in which they live. The most basic measure is body condition. For deer, body condition follows an annual cycle – lowest in the spring and early summer followed by high in summer and fall as they replenish lost reserves. The drivers of this cycle are population density and environmental conditions. In the words of a biologist, density dependent and density independent factors.
Density dependent factors are those that affect individuals as population density increases. We’ve talked about density-dependent factors like female dispersal before. More deer in the same areas with the same food resources affects individual energy intake. Competition increases and for individual deer it can result in poorer body condition, reduced pregnancies or smaller litters, increased risk of mortality, etc.
Density independent factors are those that limit a population regardless of size. Think snow, rain, fire, flood, earthquake, apocalypse. It doesn’t matter if there are 100 or 1,000 critters, all of them feel the effect of Mother Nature’s wrath. Density independent factors have the same effect on a population as density dependent factors – poorer body condition, reduced pregnancy, increased mortality.
The problem we face as biologists and managers is differentiating between the two. We can change population density, but we can’t change the “weather.”
Enter Synergistic Population Density and Environmental Effects on Deer Body Condition. This study took place on Anticosti Island, an island located in Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and infamous for its exceptionally high deer population. Deer were introduced in 1896 and never looked back. In some areas, density estimates are over 100 deer/square mile!
Researchers looked at long term data to investigate this relationship between density dependent (high population densities) and independent (snow depth, winter temperature, spring green-up) factors on body condition.
Did I mention how difficult it is to detect change? Deer are incredibly plastic. They can adapt and adjust to just about any condition. There is a reason they are the most widely distributed cervid in North America. They are the embodiment of the Marine Corps mission: improvise, adapt, overcome.
Using body mass as a proxy for body condition over a 10-year period, researchers compared over 3,000 females from 5 different study zones with varying population densities. They also measured protein and fat reserves as a window into energy allocation. Protein reserves are used for biomechanical functions like tissue repair and lactation while fat reserves are used during periods of environmental or physiological stress.
What makes this paper so interesting is they were able to tease out the effects of density and environmental factors on female body condition separately and…wait for it…synergistically.
  • At high population densities, females had lower fat and protein reserves compared to those in lower density populations illustrating density dependence.
  • In lower density populations, body condition was negatively influenced by heavy winter precipitation. Deer were unable to recover in summer from a previous bad winter. Illustrating density independence.
Ok, nothing too surprising there. You’re thinking no wonder it took me 3 months to read this paper. But here’s where it gets interesting.
  • In high density populations, density dependent factors negate the effects of density independent factors.
If you are confused, so was I. And this is the reason it took me 3 months to read this paper. I could not understand what seemed like contradictory statements in the abstract.
What they found on Anticosti Island is deer in high density areas were in such poor body condition that fat reserves did not vary with winter conditions. Fat reserves in high-density populations were 23% lower than deer from low density areas. If the bank is empty, it doesn’t matter how much you write the check for. It could be a $10 winter or a $1,000,000 winter, that density independent factor made no difference to them.
But here’s where it gets even more confusing. Early spring green up is NOT helpful to deer. It’s a matter of quality vs quantity. Early spring green up allows slow plant development. It increases biomass at the cost of plant quality. Delayed spring green up is associated with rapid plant growth and high forage quality. Early spring green is akin to a celery buffet. You can’t get fat on unlimited celery sticks. Early spring green up results in reduced body mass for both low and high deer density areas. However, the effect was stronger in areas with high deer density. In this case, deer under density dependent stress DID response to density independent factors.
So which is more important or influential – density dependent or density independent factors? The answer of course is it depends. Sometimes they influence populations separately. Other times, they work together. Teasing apart which will be the winner in a given scenario is…wait for it…complicated.
Is it better to manage based on density dependent factors because those are the ones we have some control over? What about that $1,000,000 winter? That’s why understanding forests, deer, and the ways they interact are so important for making smart management decisions.
-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk
 
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