Arizona Game and Fish Department officials announced they will recommend an amendment to existing hunt guidelines for deer on the Kaibab Plateau as a result of a research study that shows that current methods for monitoring of cliffrose, an important winter food plant for deer, may not be adequate for determining the effects of mule deer abundance on the animals’ winter range.
The department will recommend the amendment at the Arizona Game and Fish Commission’s April 17-18 meeting in Phoenix, when hunt recommendations are approved.
The North Kaibab mule deer herd in Game Management Unit 12A is well known for the abundance of deer and the relative commonplace occurrence of large-antlered bucks. The relative health of this herd is affected by many factors, including precipitation, wildfires, habitat quality, and the hunt guidelines that govern hunting season recommendations developed by the department.
Game animals in Arizona are managed according to hunt guidelines adopted by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission once every two years. These guidelines direct how wildlife managers formulate hunt recommendations. The guidelines themselves are developed based on best available science and socially-derived expectations from public input.
In special places like the North Kaibab, alternative deer management guidelines are adopted to allow for abundant older age class animals, and low hunter density during late-season hunts.
Existing hunt guidelines for the North Kaibab include direction that hunting permits should be adjusted to obtain greater than 20 bucks for every 100 does, take advantage of high fawn recruitment years, and reduce hunting pressure in years with below-average fawn recruitment.
In 2004, the Arizona Deer Association (ADA) and other interested sportsmen expressed concerns that cliffrose use monitoring conducted annually by the department on the Kaibab winter range might be inadequate for determining if the number of deer were compatible with the amount of food. Together, the department and the ADA collaborated on a research study to examine the deer herd's relationship to the winter range.
Although the final analyses have yet to be completed, one thing is clear: The cliffrose monitoring is not adequate to detect effects of mule deer abundance on winter range. A survey conducted this year indicates that population models, recalibrated after a 2004 survey, are right on the money. Hunt recommendations for North Kaibab mule deer hunts for fall 2009 will be made without reference to forage monitoring.
When the research analyses are complete in early summer 2009, hunt guidelines will incorporate suggested changes and will be presented to the Game and Fish Commission for their approval in August 2009.