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Title: Habitat Selection by Mule Deer in southeastern British Columbia

Authors: Hugh S. Robinson, Donald D. Katnik, John C. Gwilliam

Year: 2006

Report Abstract
Due to their importance as a game species, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and their habitat preferences have been extensively researched. In British Columbia (B.C.), the timber industry is regulated in order to protect designated ungulate winter ranges that are viewed as critical for population growth. Despite the importance of ungulate winter range in forest harvest planning, few empirical mule deer habitat studies have been conducted in south-central B.C., and few exist in the literature. In the West Kootenay Region of B.C., mule deer winter range is defined as having timber greater than 81 yrs of age with 20% - 40% crown closure, depending on the specific biogeoclimatic subzone. However, winter habitat use is quite literally only half the picture when it comes to mule deer habitat management, summer habitat may be just as important to population maintenance and growth. We conducted radio telemetry on mule deer in south-central B.C. from 1997 to 2001, in order to clearly delineate and evaluate seasonal habitat use of mule deer in this region. We conducted both a univariate and multivariate analysis of telemetry data. The most striking result in our study was the strong selection of Spruce/Fir forests by both sexes during summer and for mixed coniferous/deciduous habitats during winter, preservation of which may be under valued in current timber harvest practices. Canopy closure affected only female winter home range selection. At a landscape scale, females sought winter habitats with 46-65% crown closure, and fewer stands with <25% closure compared to the available landscape. These values vary slightly from the level of crown closure (≤ 40%) designated for mule deer winter range in the Kootenay region of B.C., however both sexes sought older stands in summer and younger stands in winter, contrary to current ungulate winter range designation. In summer, mule deer bucks avoided shrub habitats, possibly in response to increased predation risk. The timber industry in B.C. has both an effect on, and is affected by, ungulate habitat use. Improper delineation of winter ranges could unnecessarily restrict timber harvest, while failing to provide mule deer with the habitat protection required for the population to thrive. Summer ranges, with the forage they provide and the relative risk of predation present, are likely as important to population growth and winter survival as winter ranges and should be managed as such.

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Habitat Selection by Mule Deer in southeastern British Columbia

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