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Associated Press, Published May 28 2013

Mule deer increase in ND but still below average

BISMARCK — The number of mule deer in western North Dakota has grown but is still lower than the long-term average, and the animals continue to face challenges including booming energy development, state wildlife officials say.

A spring survey concluded that the population has increased 15 percent from last year but is still 22 percent lower than the average, the state Game and Fish Department said.

The over-the-year increase is due to a relatively mild winter in much of the deer's range as well as the state not issuing hunting licenses for antlerless mule deer last year, said Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor for Game and Fish. The department is proposing no antlerless mule deer tags again this year, as well as a decrease of 50 mule deer buck licenses, to 1,150.

The spring mule deer survey is used to assess the abundance of the animals in the western badlands. It is conducted after the snow has melted and before the trees begin to leaf out, providing the best conditions for aerial observation. Biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 study areas since the 1950s.

Stillings said the population increase from 2012 is encouraging.

"But challenges remain for further population growth, including changes in habitat, energy development, predators and weather patterns," he said.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.