Thoughts on the deer population

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There is still a lot of discussion about why there was such low hunter success last hunting season. First of all, it is necessary to look at deer numbers. Obviously there were fewer deer, but elk numbers are not quite so clear.

The two winters prior to last fall saw above normal snowfall and that contributed to fewer deer. Some folks blamed wolves for “wiping out” the deer population. Fish and Wildlife officials feel that there might have been some impact in some areas, overall it was minimal.

I was surprised to hear that Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials estimate that there are nearly 500 more mountain lions in this ecosystem than there are wolves, yet I have heard only a few claim mountain lions are a major factor in reducing deer numbers. Why is that?

I was surprised because several years ago, we were told lions were much better deer hunters than wolves. So much so that the last time deer numbers were low, we were told that wolves were driving lions off their kills, resulting in lions starving. There was even a front-page picture of a skinny mountain in the Hungry Horse News. It was found dead the day after the picture was taken. Official result: it starved to death. The death was attributed to low deer numbers and wolves stealing from mountain lions.

So, why so little furor over lions today? Surely they have contributed to the low deer numbers. Deer increase quickly in numbers compared to all of their predators, except humans. Maybe that is the predator that needs more management. I have always thought we manage livestock and pet population better than we do humans.

In the end, I think the low hunter success last fall is the result of all of the above. Two winters that increased winter kill, those major predators – wolves, lions and humans – and maybe even changing forest conditions caused by major wildfires.

I can remember when it was more common to see moose on the North Fork than elk. Now, elk far outnumber the moose.

Porcupines used to be common along the river bottom. Now they are rarely seen. It is now much easier to photograph a grizzly bear than a porcupine.

In recent years, turkey buzzards and red fox have become common on the North Fork.

All of these changes, plus more and more people all year round with their machines and activities and homes, must be having some effects on the area.

What do you think?

Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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