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Categorized | Featured, Outdoors

Deer movement in the Upper Peninsula

Part 2 of an article on CWD and deer movement

A doe returns to the wild after being fitted with a GPS collar by researchers with the Upper Peninsula deer movement study. 

Since May 2015, when the first CWD-positive deer was identified in the Lower Peninsula, the DNR has been surveilling the Michigan-Wisconsin border for signs of CWD in free-ranging white-tailed deer.

In 2018, the DNR confirmed the first CWD-positive deer in the Upper Peninsula, in Dickinson County.

Wildlife managers responded quickly, planning a study to learn how deer movements in the U.P. affect the risk of CWD transmission, and how those movements differ from deer studied in the Lower Peninsula.

The U.P. deer movement study, a partnership between the Camp Fire Program in Wildlife Conservation at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the DNR, has three objectives: 

• Determine the frequency, distance and timing of deer movements, particularly between summer and winter range.

• Estimate population abundance.

• Develop models of probable deer movements for each population studied. 

To meet these objectives, researchers capture deer and fit them with GPS collars to track their movements.

Capture and collaring efforts were concentrated on four deer wintering complexes–areas commonly referred to as “deer yards” that provide food and cover for deer in winter conditions–in the western U.P.

Another study area was added in southern Dickinson County after the discovery of CWD there in October 2018. Four of these deer wintering complexes are located along the Michigan-Wisconsin border. Wisconsin is also home to CWD-infected deer, some which have been detected in neighboring border counties.

“Information on these movements helps us make decisions on identifying CWD management zones,” said Dean Beyer, DNR wildlife research biologist. “This is particularly important in the Upper Peninsula, where the combination of high deer densities in the wintering complexes and long-distance migrations to summer range increases the risk of CWD transmission across very large areas.” 

From the 190 deer collared in 2018, and the 97 collared in 2019, the researchers were able to track and observe the movement of deer from these areas.

Based on preliminary data, researchers observed spring migratory movements of up to 48 miles–demonstrating that deer move from these deer wintering complexes across vast areas. Researchers also observed some mixing of deer from different wintering complexes on their summer range. 

“Together, these observations suggest that there would be a risk of transmitting CWD across very large areas because of the migratory movements,” said Beyer.

Not only do these data support a comprehensive approach to disease management, they also help the DNR plan its overall deer management program in the Upper Peninsula.

Moving forward

While there is no cure for chronic wasting disease, wildlife managers remain committed to better managing its spread.
“Disease management means understanding the species affected. That includes their movement patterns,” said Chad Stewart, DNR deer, elk and moose specialist. “If we hope to successfully mitigate the spread of CWD, coordinating our management response with local biology is important.”

Stewart said that with the results from both studies, the DNR will be able to better understand how free-ranging white-tailed deer populations move throughout the year in many areas of Michigan. Getting a firm handle on that movement data will help researchers see connections in how CWD is contracted in those populations and help inform plans to limit the spread of the disease. 

“This is Michigan’s biggest wildlife challenge,” Stewart added. “Deer hunting and wildlife watching are huge outdoor traditions in our state, enjoyed across generations and contributing so much to Michigan’s economy and very identity. A lot is riding on sustaining a healthy deer population on both Peninsulas, and we are in this fight for the long haul.”

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One Response to “Deer movement in the Upper Peninsula”

  1. Thomas Kiander says:

    A true shame. This taint on a truly great tradition.




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