Make way helicopters, Idaho Fish and Game testing new tech for elk and deer surveys

In what could ultimately lead to a less-expensive, less-invasive and more safe and efficient way of tracking deer and elk herds in Idaho, Fish and Game biologists have deployed a system of remote cameras to begin tracking the sometimes elusive ungulate herds.

The first cameras were placed in the winter ranges of mule deer in Eastern Idaho, elk in the St. Joe River and the South Fork of the Clearwater River during December and will continue to snap pictures every time they are triggered by movement, and also at 10 minute intervals through February.

The photos will hopefully generate more accurate population estimates and also more accurate sex ratios.

Up until now, the usual way of counting involved aerial surveys in small samples of deer and elk winter ranges, and then used that data to estimate over the full range.

Unfortunately, for species such as mule deer, that can lead to less accurate counts because males don’t often congregate with the females during the winter.

The technology may also lead to the first every population and sex ratio estimates in North Idaho, because aerial surveys are difficult if not impossible to conduct in heavily forested areas.

The use of game cameras is not necessarily brand new to the department, they began using cameras in the early 2000’s for simple presence or absence surveys, but improved technology has opened up new potential applications.

So far, when compared to aerial surveys, results have come back comparably, and biologists think that game cameras will be a viable alternative and ultimately lead to more frequent surveys.

Currently, the department does comprehensive population surveys every five years.

More information can be found on the Idaho Fish and Game website by clicking here.

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