Antelope Island's overpopulated deer herd trimmed in roundup

Feb 7 2014 - 6:52am

Images

A deer looks through slats of a trailer Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
A helicopter brings captured deer to the processing center on Antelope Island Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
DWR employees and volunteers carry deer to be processed Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
DWR employees and volunteers weigh a deer Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
A deer vocalizes her discomfort Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
A deer looks through slats of a trailer Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
A helicopter brings captured deer to the processing center on Antelope Island Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014. (DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
DWR employees and volunteers carry deer to be processed Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
DWR employees and volunteers weigh a deer Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)
A deer vocalizes her discomfort Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014 on Antelope Island.(DYLAN BROWN/Standard-Examiner)

ANTELOPE ISLAND -- Teams of biologists and state officials moved a doe into a large canvas tent.

Officials had captured the mule deer with a netgun from a helicopter. Once the doe was brought down, she was hobbled, blindfolded, strung along with a few other deer and whisked away to a staging area at Antelope Island's Fielding Garr Ranch in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.

"This is what the public doesn't see," Garr Ranch curator Clay Shelley said. "They think the animals all just take care of themselves."

The operation was part of a three-day animal transportation program by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which ended Thursday.

From 8 a.m. to dark, the DWR worked to capture 100 mule deer, mostly does and a few fawn, on Antelope Island. After being processed, officials said, the deer will be split evenly for relocation by trailer to the Elk Ridge area of San Juan County and the Oak Creek area of Millard County.

This is the first time the DWR removed deer from Antelope Island. 

Last month, state officials captured and relocated 30 bighorn sheep from the island. Another bighorn sheep capture took place on the Newfoundland Mountains, west of the Great Salt Lake, a week ago.

To complete the deer endeavor, DWR biologists worked with a helicopter crew, wildlife officials from around the state and sportsman groups.

At the staging area, the teams kept conversations to a minimum and spoke in whispers to keep the deer calm. In the tent, the teams checked each animal's health, tagged their ears and fit them with radio collars. In addition, the crew took chest measurements, tested for chronic wasting disease, took an ultrasound and noted loin thickness/rump fat.

Animals that showed increased stress, usually by displaying high body temperatures, were rubbed down with snow and sprayed with an alcohol solution.

"It's the biggest thing," DWR biologist Chad Wilson said. "If you stress them out too much it causes capture myopathy." 

The stress disease can kill an animal.

"Temperature seems to be one of the biggest indicators of their stress and how they seem to be doing," Wilson said.

DWR Big Game Project Leader Kent Hersey said the move is meant to relieve population constraints on the island and relocate the animals to areas in the state with fewer deer.

"We take from too many and give to too few," Hersey said.

Before the transportation program began, officials counted more than 800 deer on the island. Wilson said Antelope Island only has the capacity to sustain up to 350 deer.

If left unfettered, the animals will overgraze and damage the island's habitat.

"This isn't the habitat to support the deer," Wilson said. "They would just eat up all of the habitat and eventually the deer population will collapse."

Officials do not know what caused the numbers to increase so dramatically. Wilson speculated that is could be migration of deer walking across the causeway or swimming across the lake, an increase in vegetation or good birth years.

To gather more information on the remaining herd on Antelope Island, DWR officials caught and released 17 deer, which they tagged and fitted with radio-collars.

As for the relocation itself, biologists are still gathering data on the success of the relocation programs.

Wildlife biology professor Brock McMillan came to the deer capture with a group from Brigham Young University. 

A team from BYU will help monitor the deer sent to the Oak Creek area once they are released. The group is studying how to successfully move deer and ensure their survival.

The team is currently tracking the movements of a herd the DWR transplanted across southern Utah last year.

Hersey said the remaining deer will be loosely tracked by DWR officials in the regions that take them.

This week's capture and relocation is the only one scheduled on Antelope Island for this year. Further deer relocations may depend on its success.

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