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Thread: Lecture on Prince William Sound Deer

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    Member Matt Cline's Avatar
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    Default Lecture on Prince William Sound Deer

    When: Tuesday December 3rd, 2013 at 7pm

    Location 1: USFS 3rd floor Conference Room in Cordova

    Location 2: PWS Community College in Valdez

    Title: Sitka Black tailed deer in Prince William Sound - What we know, what we don't know, what we wish we knew and what we're doing about it.

    This talk is by Charlotte Westing, the Fish and Game biologist in Cordova that makes the decisions about EOs etc.

    For those that can't make one of the locations, we will attend, take notes and forward any info on this thread.

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    Member Roger's Avatar
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    Thanks Matt ! Keep us non attendees informed
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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Cline View Post
    For those that can't make one of the locations, we will attend, take notes and forward any info on this thread.
    Thank you!
    ...he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. ~Thomas Jefferson
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    Matt,
    Appreciate the info, I can't attend but look forward to reading the results when you post them.
    BK

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    looking forward to reading the notes from this.

    Chris

  6. #6
    Member Matt Cline's Avatar
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    Sitka-black tailed Deer in Prince William Sound
    Cordova and Valdez, Alaska
    December 3rd, 2013
    Last night ADF&G BiologistCharlotte Westing gave a great PowerPoint presentation on the deer in PrinceWilliam Sound. Below are my notes from the presentation:

    Charlotte has been a Biologistfor the State of Alaska for 10 years and has worked with different species ofgame all over the state but is now based in Cordova. She reminded us that thedeer were introduced into Prince William Sound between 1916 and 1923. There wasno way for them to move to Prince William Sound on their own. There areunfortunately not many records that were kept about the introduction at thetime but she was able to establish that at least 24 deer were introduced (quitelikely more) to Hawkins and Hinchinbrook Island. Deer hunting opened in 1935and the peak of the population was reached by 1945. In 1960, the first harvestdata was collected. Each year now about 1300 hunters go to hunt deer in thesound and between 1200 and 1900 deer are harvested each year, about 600 of themin the Cordova area (nearby islands.)

    The deer lifespan is about 10 to15 years and a doe can start producing offspring in her second year and cancontinue breeding till she is about 10 to 12 years of age. Does between theages of 5 and 10 years often produce twins. Fawns are born in early June. Thepeak of the mating season is towards the end of November. When a population ofdeer is short of bucks, the young are born slightly later in the season, butthat has not been found to be the case in the sound.

    The deer are said to inhabit theislands up to about the 1500 ft level and they prefer areas where there isuneven aged trees which allows for their forage plants to grow underneath. Theyalso inhabit the heavily timbered, near shore areas in the winter. When theirpopulation expands, they tend to spill over onto mainland and when thepopulation shrinks they tend to congregate in pockets on the islands. In thesummer they are eating the green leaves off the shrubs including sweet gale andblueberry as well as skunk cabbage, grasses and sedges. South facing slopestend to have more of these plants available for them. After the rut, the buckshave lost some of their fat reserves, so if a high snow season follows, more buckstend to die off than does.

    Given the terrain, weather,budget and type of canopy on the islands, doing exact counts and estimates ofpopulation is not possible. All the techniques used in other areas (such asaerial counts, spotlight surveys, harvest per unit effort, track surveys, radiocollar data, DNA based CMR, thermal imaging with aerial photography, distancesampling and modeling) do not work in PWS. The only technique they have to workwith is the “deer pellet transect”. This system works with the old growthforest, and correlates well to aerial counts in areas. The deer pellettransects give one a reliable indication of the population trend (up or down)although it does have a delay in it as some of the pellets counted at the endof May could be from deer that died that past winter. So the deer pellettransects reflect the population of a year before. These deer pellet transectshave been conducted since 1988. Each location is counted every year and has 3to 5 transects which run from the shore up into the alpine. The transect is onemeter wide. The piles of pellets are counted per 20 meter run of the transectso one data point is taken per 20 meter section. There are 3 locations on NakedIsland, 3 on Knight Island, 6 on Hawkins Island, 6 on Hinchinbrook Island and 6on Montague Island. Funding and personnel for the transect work comes from bothADF&G and the USFS. Each location recorded one of its lowest recordingsthis spring, which prompted the EO this fall. Data is also taken from peoplewith local knowledge and recent observations of the deer, to help with themanagement decisions – topics that are helpful are body conditionsobservations, sex ratios observed, carcass counts, observations of harvest andharvest per unit information.

    The graphs Charlotte had of thelast 3 decades of deer pellet counts showed that the spring 2013 count was only1/3 of the next lowest count in the last two decades. Also, the deer pelletcount a couple years after 1988 was also notably low. The weather/snow patternof 1988 was similar to that of 2011.

    Charlotte also explained that themethod of collecting harvest data has changed over time:
    From 1960 to 1979 – the harvestreports were very general and vague.
    From 1980 to 2010 – randomhunters were selected to complete a more detailed harvest report.
    Since 2011 onwards, a mandatoryharvest report card comes with the deer tags which each hunter is expected tocomplete at the end of the season. Still only about 60% of hunters send this inand some are very vague on the hunt location which does help in the compilationof harvest data. For example if you hunted Naked Island, it is not helpful toput “Prince William Sound” as the location. If you hunted Montague Island, itwould be most helpful if you put an exact location such as the name of the bayor drainage, or even a GPS co-ordinate.

    Information that has come out ofthe harvest data includes:
    1/3 of the PWS deer huntersactually live in Unit 6 (Cordova/Valdez area, Whittier, Chenega Village,Tatitlik Village) and this group harvest approximately 40 to 50% of the totaldeer harvested.
    2/3 of the PWS deer hunters are from outside of Unit 6 (most of them Alaskans)and this group take about 50% of the total deer harvested.

    About 40% of the deer harvested inPWS in any year are does.
    An average of 486 deer are takenfrom Montague Island every year the last few years.

    Deer populations oscillate up anddown naturally but it is the biologists’ job to soften the extent of thoseoscillations, so as to make the population more sustainable and alwaysavailable for people to harvest. The most effective way of doing this is bycontrolling the harvest of the does – this has the most profound effect on thetrajectory of the population in the coming years. Restricting the harvest ofdoes can mean the difference between a 3 year recovery and an 8 year recovery.This year (2013) doe season was closed in November and December. Residents ofUnit 6 usually take about 36% does in December and those hunters from outsideUnit 6 usually take about 48% does in November, so the burden of restrictionwas placed on both groups.

    Signs are positive for next year– body condition has been excellent (there is less competition for forageplants than normal) and hunters have been seeing more deer than this time lastyear. However, it is impossible to know if we need to restrict harvest in 2014until we see what weather we get this winter and spring. At this stage though,it is less likely that we’ll have a closure in 2014 than it was in 2013.

    What can you do for the deerpopulation? Firstly report your harvest with as much detail as that littlereport card allows. Each one is read in full. Even if you did not hunt, that isimportant information and if you did hunt and did not get a deer, that is alsocritically important for Fish and Game to know. Secondly encourage your friendsand hunting partners to report their harvests too. Any other information thatmay help with the population management is always welcomed by the biologistssuch as body condition (sending in photos is good) sex ratios seen, fawnproduction info, dead deer seen, diseased or otherwise abnormal deer seen,weather conditions during your hunt etc and you should feel comfortable givingthis info to Charlotte by phone, email or mail. Her phone number is (907) 4243215.

    Hopefully these notes takenduring her presentation are helpful to you and encourage you to get involved.If you have any questions about the information here, I am sure Charlotte willbe happy to answer them.
    Matt




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    Member Meanderthal's Avatar
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    Thanks for putting together such a comprehensive report Matt!

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    Thanks Matt for the report very interesting read, Looks like we might be seeing you again next season then
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    Excellent report, thanks. As a result I will make sure to provide as much detail as possible on my hunt report.

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    Thanks for the overview! Much appreciated. We noticed more deer this year, mostly does. The population is still noticeably down and the bear activity has been more (based on what we saw) in the last two years into November.
    ... aboard the 'Memory Maker' Making Memories one Wave at a Time!

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    Moderator bkmail's Avatar
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    Matt,
    Appreciate the comprehensive report. Sounds like things should be getting better in the near future for our deer populations....hopefully.
    Awfully nice of Charlotte to put this presentation together.
    Thanks again!
    BK

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Cline View Post

    Given the terrain, weather,budget and type of canopy on the islands, doing exact counts and estimates ofpopulation is not possible. All the techniques used in other areas (such asaerial counts, spotlight surveys, harvest per unit effort, track surveys, radiocollar data, DNA based CMR, thermal imaging with aerial photography, distancesampling and modeling) do not work in PWS. The only technique they have to workwith is the “deer pellet transect”. This system works with the old growthforest, and correlates well to aerial counts in areas. The deer pellettransects give one a reliable indication of the population trend (up or down)although it does have a delay in it as some of the pellets counted at the endof May could be from deer that died that past winter. So the deer pellettransects reflect the population of a year before. These deer pellet transectshave been conducted since 1988. Each location is counted every year and has 3to 5 transects which run from the shore up into the alpine. The transect is onemeter wide. The piles of pellets are counted per 20 meter run of the transectso one data point is taken per 20 meter section. There are 3 locations on NakedIsland, 3 on Knight Island, 6 on Hawkins Island, 6 on Hinchinbrook Island and 6on Montague Island. Funding and personnel for the transect work comes from bothADF&G and the USFS. Each location recorded one of its lowest recordingsthis spring, which prompted the EO this fall. Data is also taken from peoplewith local knowledge and recent observations of the deer, to help with themanagement decisions – topics that are helpful are body conditionsobservations, sex ratios observed, carcass counts, observations of harvest andharvest per unit information.
    Thanks for sharing. Wow. The deer pellet count? Seriously? What will they think of next? Hopefully they have some seasonal interns conducting this experiment. I'd hate to think of our tax dollars and Pittman-Robertson funds being wasted counting deer pellets. I have some serious doubts about the reliability of that population estimate method. How do they know it's not the same deer walking around leaving the pellets everywhere. There has got to be a more reliable method that can be used. Just because they can't do aerial surveys, doesn't mean they can't use more reliable methods. What about a capture, mark, recapture method?

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    Member Meanderthal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushwhack Jack View Post
    Thanks for sharing. Wow. The deer pellet count? Seriously? What will they think of next? Hopefully they have some seasonal interns conducting this experiment. I'd hate to think of our tax dollars and Pittman-Robertson funds being wasted counting deer pellets. I have some serious doubts about the reliability of that population estimate method. How do they know it's not the same deer walking around leaving the pellets everywhere. There has got to be a more reliable method that can be used. Just because they can't do aerial surveys, doesn't mean they can't use more reliable methods. What about a capture, mark, recapture method?
    In the past they used volunteer high school students to do the pellet counts. That is probably still the case today but I'm not sure.

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    Member Matt Cline's Avatar
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    Hi BushwhackJack! I sympathize with your concern over the deer pellet transects. I was also dubious about it at first but now I understand better that it is NOT a population estimate method, but merely a "trend indicator". So it can tell us if the population is going up or down drastically. It does not pick up the gentle oscillations in the population, but the drastic ones like when there is massive snow-kill it does show up. It is also used extensively in the lower 48 and areas in which they can do aerial surveys at the same time, the results of the deer pellet transects correlate closely with the aerial survey results, so that does give it some credibility in my perception.

    Fish and Game does try and use volunteers to a large extent in the surveys. In fact if you are free at that time, Charlotte would love to have some help. I would do it if I could - it would be great to get on the ground and be a small part of the deer management but I have my hands full at that time dropping off Spring bear hunters so it's not an option. Seriously, Charlotte was asking for volunteers to help!

    She did discuss the capture, mark, recapture method. She told us that the 200 collars (the minimum required to have meaningful results) would cost $800K. That is just the collars, not to mention the helicopter time and staff time for darting, collaring and then later recapturing the deer. That method was seriously considered but the budget said "no way!" (Especially considering that it is an introduced species, not even a species that is native to the area.) Hope that clarifies things for you.
    Last edited by Matt Cline; 12-05-2013 at 12:31. Reason: typo

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Cline View Post


    Fish and Game does try and use volunteers to a large extent in the surveys. In fact if you are free at that time, Charlotte would love to have some help. I would do it if I could - it would be great to get on the ground and be a small part of the deer management but I have my hands full at that time dropping off Spring bear hunters so it's not an option. Seriously, Charlotte was asking for volunteers to help!

    She did discuss the capture, mark, recapture method. She told us that the 200 collars (the minimum required to have meaningful results) would cost $800K. That is just the collars, not to mention the helicopter time and staff time for darting, collaring and then later recapturing the deer. That method was seriously considered but the budget said "no way!" (Especially considering that it is an introduced species, not even a species that is native to the area.) Hope that clarifies things for you.
    Thanks for your response. I would love to volunteer, but I already have a full time job. About the collars, why does the fish and game have to pay $4,000 ($800K/200 collars) for a collar? Just saying. Couldn't they just use an ear tag or tatoo of some sort? I know you are not responsible and I don't mean to shoot the messenger, but I'm just genuinely curious about this study.

    I could see where the cost would add up if they have to use a helicopter for transportation, but aren't they already using a boat to do the fecal pellet count? Couldn't they use the same transportation to conduct a simple capture, mark, recapture. You make a valid point about the deer not being a natural population. I just personally see the fecal pellet count as a waste of time. Anybody could go out there and look for fecal pellets. Not to mention the fact that fecal pellets can last for a really long time.

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    Moderator bkmail's Avatar
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    Bushwhack,
    Give her a call and express your concerns...." you should feel comfortable giving this info to Charlotte by phone, email or mail. Her phone number is (907) 4243215."

    Matt is simply helping us that could not attend by disseminating the info.

    BK

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    Thanks a lot Matt. I really appreciate the detail with which you made your report. Greatly appreciated!

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    Folks who are interested in this stuff can find the most recently posted deer managment report here:

    http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/ho.../deer_2011.pdf

    It contains historical harvest and pellet count data for the whole State including unit 6.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bkmail View Post
    Bushwhack,
    Give her a call and express your concerns...." you should feel comfortable giving this info to Charlotte by phone, email or mail. Her phone number is (907) 4243215."

    Matt is simply helping us that could not attend by disseminating the info.

    BK
    No, I understand that. And I do appreciate Matt passing the information along. I just find it a little humorous is all.

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    Jack, if you do some looking through wildlife biology and ecology journals, you'll find that pellet counts are an accepted method for looking at population trends. This isn't just some low-budget hunch of an idea, but rather a method that has been used for a long time and which has been shown to be statistically valid after much testing against other forms of population surveys. It's not perfect, but no method of population survey is. Things like length of time for pellet disintegration, travel habits of deer (the same deer depositing pellets all along the transect), etc. are all accounted for in the models used by F&G.

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