JACKSON HOLE, WYO –You are what you eat, and that is true with big game animals like mule deer. The quantity and quality of forage available on the landscape to mule deer, for instance, is a vital component in herd management expectations.
This is why Wyoming Game and Fish habitat biologists spend most of their time in the field applying treatments to improve shrubs while also measuring the productivity of these shrubs important to mule deer.
Generally, the amount of new growth on shrubs (termed “production”) is tied to the amount of precipitation received during the growing season (typically April through June). However, this past growing season appears to have been an exception to this rule as early summer precipitation was down, yet excellent growth was recorded for true mountain mahogany, actually increasing from the previous year.
Why, you ask, did we buck the trend? It was all that leftover snow from the Winter of 2016-17. The significant snowpack from last winter created a moisture reserve that plants were able to tap into well into the growing season, offsetting a relatively dry spring.
Leader production in 2017 for True Mountain Mahogany increased from an average of 4.14 inches in 2016, to 5.13 inches across the five transects that were monitored. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) continued to monitor other shrub species within habitat treatments, documenting in some cases a four-fold increase of production in treated areas versus untreated areas (Three Buttes Dixie Harrow, 2014), with many at least doubling in production two years after treatment.
When applying treatments in shrub communities, the WGFD is looking to not only increase the production of plants, but also increase the age diversity by creating conditions favorable for establishing younger shrubs. This ensures the long-term viability of these plant communities, which in turn will help deer populations through the tough winters and help them produce healthy fawns.