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Sul Ross BRI, TPWD, ECLCC-CEMEX continue mule deer relocation

March 9th, 2017 under Features
(SRSU photo by STEVE LANG) Charter flight for net-gunned mule deer does on Elephant Mountain WMA.

(SRSU photo by STEVE LANG)
Charter flight for net-gunned mule deer does on Elephant Mountain WMA.

By STEVE LANG

News and Publications

ALPINE – Ninety-eight mule deer does caught helicopter, then trailer, rides and eventually found themselves in new homes as part of a joint restoration and research project through Sul Ross State University’s Borderlands Research Institute (BRI).

This marks the third year of a collaborative effort by the BRI, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), El Carmen Land & Conservation Co. (ECLCC-CEMEX) and several other sponsoring organizations. The program seeks to invigorate mule deer populations at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and adjacent ECLCC-CEMEX property in southeastern Brewster County.

The mule deer does were net-gunned by helicopter from a private ranch near Fort Stockton and from Elephant Mountain WMA Feb. 20-22. Following capture, the deer were hobbled, blindfolded, and then transported by slinging via animal bags and cable to the staging areas.

After veterinarians and biologists took blood and fecal samples, administered inoculations, and recorded ages, the deer were fitted with VHF (Very High Frequency) collars, transported to Black Gap WMA and ECLCC-CEMEX, and released. Fifty-five of the does were released into a 500-acre enclosed area on the Black Gap WMA, and the remaining does were released on ECLCC-CEMEX property. After two weeks, the gates of the pens will be opened and the deer will be free to roam the rest of Black Gap’s 100,000-acre domain, as well as the adjacent properties.

Sul Ross graduate student John Clayton “Kiddo” Campbell, Castroville, has monitored deer released in 2015 and 2016 as well as this year’s relocated animals. He records the deer’s movements, habitat selection, survival rates, and other relevant data. Comparisons will be made between deer released into the enclosure (soft-release) and those liberated without the use of an enclosure (hard-release).

“So far, there has been a pretty high survival rate,” he said. Both he and Shawn Gray, TPWD Mule Deer and Pronghorn Program Leader, noted a difference in movements between animals “soft-released” for a two-week period in a 500-acre enclosure, and those “hard-released” directly into the wild.

“Some of the hard-released deer (from 2016) covered over a 40-mile circuit,” Campbell said. “The majority of the does soft-released stayed in Black Gap, but those who travel farther also help restoration efforts for the entire area.”

Gray said relocation projects have been fairly common in restoring mule deer populations to healthy levels. Collaring the deer provides valuable data on determining travel distances and corridors, establishment of home range, habitat utilization, as well as mortality.

Other project contributors are the Mule Deer Foundation, Houston Safari Club and USDA Wildlife Services. Taylor Delleney, chairman of the Houston Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, was on hand for this year’s capture and relocation. He enjoyed watching the results of his organization’s fund-raising.

“To actually see the projects on the ground is important,” he said. “It is exciting to watch the excellent collaboration among Texas Parks and Wildlife, Sul Ross and the BRI, along with the MDF.”

For more information, contact Campbell, jcam3189@sulross.edu.

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