The late winter snow took a toll on mule deer fawns during March and April but had less effect on elk calves.
Idaho Fish and Game biologists have been monitoring 207 deer fawns and 201 elk calves that were captured in early winter and fitted with telemetry collars. Forty-six percent of the fawns and 77 percent of the elk calves survived through April.
That compares with 61 percent of the fawns and 72 percent of the calves surviving through April in 2017-18, and 34 and 57 percent through April 2016-17.
“It will not be like the winter of 2016-17, but we will be below the long-term average,” said Daryl Meints, Fish and Game’s deer and elk coordinator. “On a brighter note, it appears that elk calf survival is doing just fine, as are adult doe and cow survival.”
According to the department, March and April are often when calf and fawn mortality is highest because the young animals’ fat reserves are rapidly depleting, and their bodies need time to convert to digesting fresh forage.
Through the end of April, mule deer fawn survival was below the 20-year average of 58 percent, which is tracked annually through the end of May. Some additional mortality is expected during May, but wildlife managers expect that 2018-19 mule deer fawn survival will end up being higher than in 2016-17, which was the second-lowest survival of fawns in 20 years.
Elk have not been trapped and collared for as many years as mule deer, and elk calves typically survive at a higher rate than mule deer fawns. Adult deer and elk also typically survive at high rates unless it’s an extreme winter.
Of the 548 radio-collared mule deer does being monitored by Fish and Game researchers, 92 percent were alive through April 30. Fish and Game biologists will tally the final survival estimates in June.