There is an estimated 25 – 30 million deer in the United States and while you may be most familiar with the white-tailed deer, there is a species called mule deer that are prominent in Western states like Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana.
Recently, biologists have discovered that deer populations in Colorado and across the West have been steadily declining. There’s no one cause of this decline, but most wildlife biologists have attributed it to things like energy development, chronic wasting disease, predators like coyotes and mountain lions, and harsh winters.
“Mule deer are an indicator species. If mule deer herds are in poor health, it probably means the land itself is in poor condition and that a lot of other species are at risk,” National Wildlife Federation public lands policy director Kate Zimmerman said in an article by the Denver Post.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife data has discovered that the statewide population is down by 36%, from 614,000 in 2005 to 391,000 in 2013. Across the West, the population has decreased by about 10%. While the numbers may be going down, deer aren’t in danger of facing extinction. Still, there are things we can do to help.
According to an article by Rapid City Journal, game warden Bill Eastman, said, “The deer numbers are down, but they are not dangerously down. Butte County [California] does have a lower population than what we are used to.”
In an article by Fox News, Jeffrey Schinkten, president of Whitetails Unlimited, believes the white-tailed deer may be a factor. Since they’re growing in population, they may be pushing the mule deer further west.
“In the East, there’s some places where they’ve just totally exploded,” Schinkten said. “They’re a hearty animal and they’ve really adapted.”
Zimmerman says we can act better when it comes to the activities we allow in deer habitats, such as oil and gas development. We can also decrease fire suppression, which leads to overly thick forests. The state of Colorado has already taken steps to help by reducing the number of deer hunting licenses given out.