Wildlife biologists fly mule deer for herd-health project in Utah

(Ben Dorger/Standard-Examiner via AP)

ANTELOPE ISLAND, Utah (AP) — Utah state wildlife officials gathered mule deer on Antelope Island this week and flew them by helicopter to biologists studying the health of the herd.

About 50 deer were flown this week, typically two or three at a time dangling below the aircraft in orange bags, the Standard-Examiner reported.

The blindfolded and restrained deer were taken to the island’s Fielding Garr Ranch, where biologists and other Utah Division of Wildlife Resources staffers checked various aspects of each animal’s health, including hind feet, body length and body fat.

“The fat helps us understand how well they’re going into winter,” said Eric Anderson, district wildlife biologist over the northern region with DWR. “For mule deer, their survival depends highly on how much fat they can put on during the summer, so that gives us an indication of how well ... the summer has been for them coming into winter.”

They also draw blood, give the animals shots such as vitamin D and outfit them with tracking collars to track migration patterns, Anderson said.

The goal is to make sure the herd is at a healthy size, given vegetation conditions and deer migration on and off the state park located on the Great Salt Lake, Anderson said.

There are 400 to 500 deer living on the island located north of Salt Lake City and known for its herd of bison.

They’re caught by contractor who shoots a net out of a gun from a helicopter. Workers quickly restrain the entangled animal to reduce its stress. They are monitored throughout the health-assessment process. If their temperature rises too high, an indication of stress, the team will spray it down with an alcohol-water solution or cover the deer with a towel soaked in ice water to cool it down.

Occasionally a deer is injured during the capture process, including one buck who lost several teeth either in the capture or an unrelated fight with another buck during mating season. Even so, Anderson said the helicopters remain the safest method for both animals and people.

That buck was treated by a veterinarian, as are animals with less serious injuries such as scrapes and scratches. Similar projects are also done to monitor deer, elk, bison and bighorn sheep populations, Anderson said.

“It’s a pretty intense effort statewide to monitor our populations and look at migration, and that helps us to better be stewards of the wildlife for the citizens of Utah,” Anderson said.