Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists are using an ultrasound machine in the field this week to check mule deer for pregnancy and overall body condition.
The use of ultrasonic technology is part of a WDFW-lead, multi-agency, five-year study of mule deer that began last year to learn more about the health and habits of the species, which may be declining in some parts of northeast and northcentral Washington.
Starting last month, up to 130 mule deer does are being captured by helicopter net-gunning and equipped with radio telemetry monitoring collars in parts of Lincoln, Whitman, Adams, Ferry, Okanogan, Chelan, and Stevens counties.
Each captured deer's health is typically checked through blood, hair, and fecal samples, and other measurements. Now the field ultrasound machine also allows immediate determination of pregnancy, size and number of fetuses, and overall body condition.
"The ultrasound helps us determine the health and productivity of these animals," explained WDFW ungulate research biologist Woody Myers, who heads up the study. Monitoring of the radio-equipped deer over the next few years will help determine habitat use, herd boundaries and home range sizes, population densities, and mortality rates, patterns, and causes.
The mule deer study is in cooperation with the Colville Confederated Tribes, Spokane Tribe, Kalispel Tribe, U.S. Forest Service, Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Land Management, Washington Department of Natural Resources, University of Washington, Washington State University, Central Washington University, University of Idaho, and Chelan Public Utility District.