Study sends Utah's mule deer up in the air

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PAROWAN - Here in Utah, it's not uncommon to see a deer in your headlights. But what about a deer in a helicopter?

Surprisingly, this is a sight a few lucky people will likely witness in Central Utah. It's all part of a research program that aims to protect the state's mule deer - a species that's been decreasing in the west for the past 15 years.

It's a bit jarring when you see it at first - two deer cradled in a net, flying over Parowan. But these animals are in good hands.

"If we can make this study successful, we can go in different places and transplant those deer (and prevent) agriculture damage or vehicle collisions," said Byron Bateman with Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife.

If we can make this study successful, we can go in different places and transplant those deer (and prevent) agriculture damage or vehicle collisions.

–Byron Bateman

Once the deer land, they're taken to tents, where they're given two shots - one a mild sedative and the other a little pain killer. Officials working on the project stay very quiet as to not frighten the animals.

"They're a little groggy, that way they don't fight us so much when we're getting them ready to go," said Anise Aoude, big game coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Several of the deer get collars, while all get tagged. The animals are weighed, and the does get an ultrasound to check for pregnancy.

Officials with the Division of Wildlife Resources, BYU and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife want to know why the mule deer population is depleting.

They have a few good ideas - coyotes, overpopulation and bad grazing lands. They're hoping these problems can be fixed with the help of this study.

They'll take these deer and move them from their current home on the Parowan front along I-15 to a new home in the Pahvant Range in Central Utah.

"They've been a problem on the Parowan front," said Bateman. "They've been over utilizing the habitat here."

Currently Utah's mule deer population is still only at 50 percent. That's why a lot of the volunteer hands working on the project are hunters -- hunters who want to preserve a big part of Utah.

"Hunting is one of the strongest traditions we have in the state of Utah and we just want to make sure that tradition carries on from generation to generation," said Bateman.

Monday and Tuesday volunteers will move 50 animals, and plan to do it again in March. Graduate students at BYU will track the deer and follow their survival rate after the move.


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