by Todd A. Black
With the recent and increased sightings and harvest of White-tailed Deer in Utah, I thought it would be interesting to share a few facts regarding these two species and the challenges which will be faced by the mule deer.
Although there have been many unsubstantiated sightings of white-tailed deer in Utah for many years, they were first documented sighting occurred on the cache unit in 1996. Currently, the DWR has not developed a management plan for the white-tail specifically and the white-tail is recognized as just another deer species in Utah. Here are a few facts we (my ghost writer) would like to share.
- White-tailed deer are a much more adaptable deer species and continued to expand their current range every year. White-tailed deer have been around at least 4 million years as opposed to the mule deer, which has only been in existence for approximately 15,000 years.
- White-tailed deer populations are rapidly expanding across their range while mule deer populations have declined west wide and are no longer found on the edge of their former historical range.
- White-tailed deer are displacing mule deer on several different ranges. These include the eastern plains of Montana, Snake River plains in Idaho, Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Idaho, and in many places throughout Canada.
- White-tailed deer present a bigger management challenge to wildlife managers. They are more difficult to control in agriculture depredation conflicts and present a bigger more costly challenge to wildlife managers. This is mainly due to their more elusive more nocturnal characteristics.
- White-tailed deer being an older species are much more resistance to various parasites and diseases, especially brain worm disease. They in fact, are carriers of many diseases which mule deer are highly susceptible to.
- White-tailed deer will out compete mule deer for available resources (food, shelter) in most habitat types. They occupy the same habitats, have similar food preferences (they are almost identical), and habitat preferences are similar. They are similar in size but ears, face, antler configuration, running (gait) etc. are different.
- Hybridization has shown to favor the white-tailed deer where mule deer populations are low and where mule deer buck to doe ratios are low. This hybridization usually takes place with a white-tailed buck mating with a mule deer doe. Offspring are viable (reproductivly) and usually retain the white-tail characteristics. Reverse mating (mule deer buck to a white-tail doe) is rare and usually results in death of the offspring.
- White-tailed deer have a higher reproductive rate. This is mainly due to the fact that a doe fawn can and do get bred in the fall before they are a year old.
- From an economic stand point mule deer, as a dwindling species are a much more sought after trophy and are more valuable from a hunting and ecological viewpoints.
- With the first sighting in 1996, the estimated population now is between 50-100 animals. The first white-tailed buck (a mature buck) was harvested on the cache unit in 2000 and two additional bucks were harvested in the Twin Creeks area in 2001. It is estimated that this population of white-tailed deer is almost doubling every year.
Finally, I would like to point out that white-tailed deer are not native to Utah, they are an invasive, aggressive species, which has the potential to displace mule deer throughout the west. We have seen what other non-native invasive species (raccoon, red fox, and noxious weeds) have done in this state to alter the habitat and have a significant impact on other native species of vegetation and wildlife. I would have to admit that I don’t think we will ever keep white-tailed deer out of Utah but I don’t think we should let them just run wild and let ‘nature’ take its course. Again, I think there needs to be some discussion/working group formed where we can discuss the issues, educate the public, and make management decisions which best represent the native wildlife of this state and the interest of the public. I don’t think white-tailed deer should be managed under the same umbrella that mule deer are managed. Mule deer are struggling on the cache unit, Utah and throughout the west. I fear the encroachment of the white-tailed deer in Utah will become a real threat to mule deer if we don’t act quickly and develop a aggressive management plan for the white-tailed deer.