From the Road: The Truckee Loyalton Deer Herd
As you may have noticed, deer are on the move. So far this spring I have seen three dead deer, two does and a fawn, along the side of the road. After once again being affected by these unfortunate and at-times disturbing sights, I decided to do some digging. It turns out; these particular deer are mule deer and are part of the Loyalton Truckee Herd. This herd has a migratory range from Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Nevada, and Placer counties down into Washoe. There are two sub-units of the herd with deer converging in the Sierra Valley (SVSU) and another in Verdi (VSU). One of the first items of importance I learned was that these deer are native, migratory, and that the health of the herd is under stress.
Through May and June the deer migrate to their summer habitats in California and return to their winter grounds in Nevada over the course of October and November. The herds typically trek to California for the summer, with the Sierra Valley sub-group heading to the Truckee River Wildlife Area. In terms of population, the herd is currently listed as “stable to declining” with an estimated total of 3,200 deer. The herd’s lack of growth is due to factors including development, wildfire, and barriers such as roads and highways. The California Department of Transportation has recorded over 1,000 Sierra Valley Sub-Unit (SVSU) deer mortalities since it started keeping record about 27 years ago. The viability of the herd is affected by all losses especially when the herd is subject to drought and highly variable climate conditions.
In return, the herd’s migration can also have an adverse on their human neighbors. Nationally, deer/motor vehicle collisions cause an average of $8 billion in economic damages every year. What can be done to both minimize that number and protect the vitality of our local herds? ? Land bridges and other forms of wildlife crossing structures are in order. In fact, many suggest that if we took the cost of deer/motor vehicle collisions and put it towards wildlife crossings, road kill could disappear from our highways within a generation. Fortunately there is work being done by dedicated and determined individuals to mitigate deaths and injury to both humans and animals. One such organization, ARC (Animal Road Crossings), is working to create solutions for crossings by investigating the challenges that have limited wildlife crossing infrastructures in the past, including costs of methods and materials. In our area, we have the Highway 89 Stewardship Team working to identify key crossing areas that will be good locations for animal crossing structures. Due to budget and topography constraints they are primarily looking into underpasses. Their first underpass was successfully completed in mid-September, 2008 at Kyburz Flat, near mile marker 5 in Sierra County.
Scientists are also tracking deer migration patterns by deploying collars on deer. The Highway 89 Stewardship team attach collars that have GPS antennas and are held closed with a latch that can be automatically released by a remote trigger once the 12 months of data has been collected and the battery life is wearing down. To date, 87 deer have worn collars and data is still being collected.
There is a long way to go and the local organizations dedicated to forging ahead with solutions need our help. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or supporter of wildlife crossings, please reach to the Highway 89 Stewardship Team, and vote to support wildlife crossings – you might just help save a life.