Standing in the sunroof of a truck, Kim Sager-Fradkin points her spotlight into a dark clearcut, searching for pairs of reflective deer eyes.
Spotlighting is just one method the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s wildlife biologist is using to count the black-tailed deer population on the North Olympic Peninsula as part of a three-year study.
“Very little is known about the population size, habitat and home range, and the mortality factors affecting deer,” Sager-Fradkin said.
While potential causes of mortality include habitat loss, predation and harvest, the tribe is concerned about hair loss syndrome, which has been found widespread in deer on the Olympic Peninsula.
Hair loss syndrome is caused by a non-native chewing louse, which cause deer to incessantly lick and scratch. As a result, deer develop poor body conditions and for some, die from hypothermia and malnutrition. The constant scratching and licking also distracts the animals from being alert to predators.
“The fawn mortality work recently conducted by the Makah Tribe led us to believe that hair loss-syndrome and its effects could be impacting populations outside of the Makah’s study area, so Lower Elwha is focusing on areas east of Makah, such as the Pysht Game Management Unit,” Sager-Fradkin said.
In addition, the information gathered will help both the tribe and state with future harvest management decisions.
In addition to population counts on the ground and from helicopters, the tribe has captured and radio collared 25 fawns and collected information such as weight, length, sex and health condition of each. The collars, which expand as the fawn grows, track the migration and mortality patterns of the young deer. The tribe plans to collar and monitor mortality patterns of 10 bucks this year and tag additional fawns and bucks in 2015.