Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) partnered with Alaska Pacific University and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to research an introduced population of Sitka black-tailed deer (SBTD) in Prince William Sound (PWS) Alaska which exists at the northernmost latitude of their range. Funding was provided by the Federal Wildlife Restoration Program ($525,000) and non-federal match ($175,000).
Intensive Management (IM) is an objective established in Alaska statute and can be applied to ungulate populations in which hunter harvest has inexplicably declined. Populations managed under IM are assessed to determine limiting factors for abundance. A study of SBTD in PWS was recently initiated to estimate adult deer abundance, survival rates, nutritional status, and evaluate population objectives. Fifteen deer were successfully net-gunned from a helicopter, tagged with GPS collars, assessed for body condition, and released. Collared deer provide the basis to learn about their habitat selection, nutritional condition, population abundance, and the effect of winter conditions. A graduate study was initiated to estimate habitat carrying capacity for deer. Biomass availability of critical deer forage will be estimated using remotely sensed data validated with ground control plots. Ultimately, these study results will inform management actions.
Hunter harvest of select populations of SBTD in PWS and southeastern Alaska has declined in recent years due to high snowfall winters. This multi-year project is only in its first year of operation. The main objective of this study is to assess the feasibility to estimate deer densities using genetic spatial mark-recapture, which has been successfully utilized in Southeast Alaska. While collaring deer for this study, the ability to capture (net) deer from a helicopter was experimental in PWS. While this method has been used with limited success in Southeast Alaska, there was some concern that conditions in PWS might preclude effective capture. Of concern and in comparison to southeastern Alaska was the lack of large, open alpine areas on islands in PWS, which limited captures to smaller open bog meadows for helicopter operations. High-resolution color and infrared (CIR) imagery was also successfully obtained for two islands in PWS. This imagery will allow fine-scale habitat classification to be validated with ground control plots and ultimately will help determine carrying capacity by island for SBTD.
Harvest of deer is extremely important in the coastal communities of PWS and southeastern Alaska. Understanding sustainable harvest levels is of extreme importance.