Deer in Northern Utah struggled through winter, now face a dangerous spring

Apr 12, 2023, 9:30 PM | Updated: Apr 18, 2023, 11:37 am

Three deer are pictured, deer populations in Northern Utah are decreasing after a hard winter and a...

Deer forage near the Wakara Way in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 24, 2021. As temperatures cool and days get shorter, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says to be on the lookout for animals on the roads. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Deer population numbers in Northern Utah have dropped significantly due to the state’s record-breaking winter this year. 

The numbers

“Around Morgan based on our collar information, we’re getting to where we’ll end up at around 25% adult survival,” says Jim Christensen, northern region wildlife program manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 

These numbers are lower than areas in Southern Utah and around Summit Counties, which have 75% to 90% survival rates for adult deer. 

The deer with higher death rates across the state are does and fawns, as they don’t have the body fat sufficient to make it through harsh winters. 

Now, as the spring greens start to blossom, survival rate numbers will drop even further according to Christensen.

“This spring green-up is actually when we do see a lot of deer die because they’re just adjusting their diet so quickly, so their digestive systems just can’t adapt quick enough for them.” 

What DWR is doing to help

The Utah Department of Wildlife Resources is doing all they can to make sure Utah’s wildlife, especially the deer, will survive to the summer. Including their recent announcement to close 24 wildlife management areas

They’ll also be working on specific hunting recommendations, continuing to feed the deer specific food, and doing habitat treatments to help the population rebound.

“It’s surprising to think that, that, you know, the snow’s melting we should be out of the woods now, but this is actually a pretty critical time for deer survival right now.”

What to do, what not to do

Christensen explains that one of the worst things citizens can do is feed the deer. “I know people really feel like they can make a difference by feeding wildlife, but they just can’t… A place we have seen a lot of issues where we’ve had a lot of deer mortalities is where they’ve been able to get into a haystack or someone has been giving them hay, and their poor digestive system just can’t digest it.”

He says the best thing to do is improve the natural habitat that the deer rely upon. This includes planting plants like sagebrush and bitterbrush that the deer can access above snow levels. 

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Deer in Northern Utah struggled through winter, now face a dangerous spring