Southwest Deer and Predator Study

The following post is by a guest blogger, Caitlin Henning,  Communications Specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Office of Applied Science. Currently, her primary project is the WDNR’s landmark Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer & Predator Study. Thanks for the information on this project, Caitlin!M2E42L116-116R390B373

If you live in North America and host trail cameras, chances are you’ve captured a few photos of whitetail deer passing through your property. Whitetail deer are one of the most commonly identified animals on the Snapshot Wisconsin Zooniverse site, and we’ve classified well over 60,000 photos of them so far. But how do these snapshots add up to the bigger picture of deer herd health?

The Wisconsin DNR’s Office of Applied Science is working to answer this question through the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer & Predator Study. It’s the largest and most comprehensive deer research project ever undertaken in Wisconsin. This study stems from the Governor’s CWD Initiative, and the goal is to comprehensively examine factors that impact deer survival and population growth in Southwest Wisconsin.

Instead of looking at how one or two factors like predators or disease might impact the herd, we’re looking at all the major drivers of deer mortality simultaneously: Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), depredation, habitat health and hunter harvest. And we’re doing it with the precision of GPS location data.

The study first launched in January, 2017. Every year for four years, the project aims to collar 200 adult deer, 100 fawns, 30 bobcats and 30 coyotes.* After collaring, researchers follow the lives of these animals for several years, learning how their health, movements and interactions affect the deer population in Southwest Wisconsin. To do this work, we depend on the generosity of our volunteer landowners who allow us to trap and release animals on private land within our study area in Grant, Iowa and Dane Counties.

We’re also looking to deploy a high density of trail cameras across the study area. Trail cameras give us visual information about animal condition that we can’t get from a GPS collar. They also help us identify deer hotspots to let us know where to focus our efforts trapping yet-uncollared deer.

If you own property within the study area, please consider becoming a volunteer landowner or Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera host! Your contribution really does make a difference to our study’s success!

To learn more, visit our website and subscribe to our newsletter. If you are interested in volunteering, email Caitlin Henning at caitlin.henning@wisconsin.gov.

*Why bobcats and coyotes? Why not other predators as well? These are great questions that we get frequently. The answer is that within our study area, bobcats and coyotes are the primary predators of whitetail deer, and we stand to learn the most about predator-deer interactions by following these two top carnivores.

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