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Habitat use patterns and associated movements of white-tailed deer in Southeastern British Columbia Smith, Christian Arthur

Abstract

This study of deer ecology was conducted from January, 1975, to May, 1976, in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia. Plant communities within the annual range of a population of white-tailed deer were classified into habitat types and analysed for species composition, productivity and forage utilization. Relative levels of use of winter habitat types were determined from track and pellet group counts. Use of summer habitats was determined subjectively from ground and aerial surveys. Movements associated with changes in habitat use and season were documented by observation and radio tracking of marked individuals. Forest succession over much of the winter range was found to have resulted in substantial decreases in availability of herbaceous and deciduous browse, causing quantitative and qualitative changes in the diet of this deer population. To compensate for this situation deer feeding activity was concentrated in the open habitat types which provide maximum quantities and qualities of forage. However, snowdepth in one winter was found to reach levels which prevented deer from exploiting these areas and concentrated them in areas where a maturing overstory reduced snowpack. The impact of concentration in shelter types with consequent reduction of available food, compared to a very mild winter, was an apparent 30% reduction in the juvenile:100 adults ratio the following spring. Summer distribution also appeared to be affected by large-scale forest succession which has produced a pattern of widely scattered, small openings. These were found mainly along water courses or rocky slopes at mid- elevations on the west side of the Rock Mountain Trench. Deer density was low throughout the summer range, but preference was observed for the open areas just described. Spring dispersal from the winter range was related to snow melt and green-up of vegetation, particularly cultivated alfalfa fields. Summer home ranges were relatively small and summer movements limited. The average distance travelled to summer range by nine deer was greater than that reported elsewhere in the literature and may be related to summer range habitat condition. Fall movements were apparently stimulated by lasting snowfall. Although density of deer on the winter range varied greatly between years, home range loyalty was found to be relatively high.

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