Migrating Mule Deer Deaths in High Sierra


Migrating deer slid to their deaths below Bishop Pass.
Photo Nov. 11, 2017 Courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Hazardous Conditions Lead to Migrating Mule Deer Deaths


November 20, 2017


Ice and snow that remained from last winter’s heavy snowfall have led to the confirmed deaths of a total of 120 mule deer in recent weeks, according to state wildlife officials. Traditional fall deer migration over Bishop and Shepard passes combined with hazardous icy conditions on steep mountain slopes, resulted in deer deaths at both high-elevation passes in the John Muir Wilderness of Inyo National Forest.
“The deer died while attempting to travel down snowfields that persisted from last winter” California Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) senior environmental scientist Tom Stephenson said. Recent freezing temperatures turned the soft snow to slick ice, according to Stephenson. “Deer were unable to maintain their footing and slid rapidly down the steep snowfields and slammed into boulder fields below.” Stephenson, who investigated mortalities at Bishop Pass, said most deer appeared to die either immediately or after traveling a short distance from the base of the snow. 
Snow falling in the higher elevations has diminished the dangerous conditions according to the CDFW. “New snow of sufficient depth prevents the deer from sliding down the icy snowfield,” Stephenson explained.
Mortalities were first reported on October 30, 2017 to the Bishop office of the CDFW by a distraught hiker crossing the 11,972-ft. Bishop Pass, according to CDFW spokesperson, David German. One day later, a mountaineer crossing the 12,047-ft. Shepherd Pass also reported seeing deer that had apparently died near the pass, and then, a few days later, the climber reported additional mortalities. Numerous calls and separate field investigations by CDFW followed, confirming that 76 deer perished in the vicinity of Bishop Pass and 44 others died near Shepherd Pass, west of Independence, CA.
“This is a horrible thing to witness, but hard things happen in the natural world,” said Debra Schweizer, a spokesperson for the Inyo National Forest. “While it is heartbreaking, this combination of circumstances occurs after a big winter--about once every 25 years,” Schweizer added.
Similar incidents were investigated by the CDFW in 1954 and 1995, in the same approximate Bishop Pass location. In 1954, Fred Jones, a wildlife biologist doing field research in the Eastern Sierra, reported approximately 26 deer slid on the ice and fell to their deaths on rocky terrain below Bishop Pass. Forty-one years later, in 1995, a similar accident in the Bishop Pass location was described by CDFW biologists Vernon Bleich and Becky Pierce. According to German, the deer were following traditional migration routes of the Round Valley and Goodale herds, descending from the higher elevation summer range on the west side to the east side of the Sierra Nevada crest where they range in winter.
The Round Valley herd, which ranges from the Buttermilk area to Round Valley in winter, has an estimated population of 2,800 animals. The Goodale herd, which winters from the Poverty Hills south of Big Pine to just north of Lone Pine, is estimated to contain 5,500 animals. “While these deaths are tragic, they represent a small fraction of the deer populations and are not expected to have a significant effect on the overall population of either herd,” German said.
Mule deer are considered abundant in the eastern Sierra, according to Stephenson. Schweizer commented “while it is hard, we manage for the health of the overall population instead of individual animals. Nature is unforgiving and unpleasant things happen in the natural world.” 
Copyright © Paula Brown-Williams, 2017 – all Rights Reserved

Comments

  1. Why has california fish and wildlife not taken actions to stop this from happening? These migration routes are critical for the deer to reach winter range , yet fish and wildlife consider 120 animals not a large enough number to impact the overall population. A 120 deer that could have been saved to continue breeding seems very important!. Wonder what number of deer would be considered large enough to prompt trail work to save future suffering and needless deaths of californiad deer? Many of these deer from what I have been told did not die immediately and lay suffering with broken bones, slowly dieing. History shows this continues to happen so action needs to be taken by california fish and wildlife to stop the needless deaths of deer that are a critical part of the dwindling california total deer population. DUSTIN TAYLOR

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    1. Did you read the article all of the way through? Yes, it is sad but, what would you like them to do? Disrupt nature and put in a "deer"way?
      "The Round Valley herd, which ranges from the Buttermilk area to Round Valley in winter, has an estimated population of 2,800 animals. The Goodale herd, which winters from the Poverty Hills south of Big Pine to just north of Lone Pine, is estimated to contain 5,500 animals. “While these deaths are tragic, they represent a small fraction of the deer populations and are not expected to have a significant effect on the overall population of either herd,” German said. "
      Mule deer are considered abundant in the eastern Sierra, according to Stephenson. Schweizer commented “while it is hard, we manage for the health of the overall population instead of individual animals. Nature is unforgiving and unpleasant things happen in the natural world.”

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  2. Seriously? You want CDFW to go out and WHAT? Plow a trail? Maybe snowblowers would work better.

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  3. Yeah, the last thing we need to do is blow a bunch of taxpayer money saving a couple of deer. If you wanna save them, go do it yourself, Dustin; I'm not worried about some deer that died because their little migration trail got icy. It's called nature -- it isn't all cupcakes and rainbows like it is on your top bunk surrounded by cute little stuffed animals.

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    1. Being a dick is totally unnecessary, Mr. Wonder.

      Delete
  4. Yeah I’m ready for the snowflakes to blame global warming on this

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    1. It’s called climate cycles and nature.

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    2. Snowflakes are a lot more educated and intelligent than you, do some research. At no point in history has the Sierra (and California, and the poles, and the rest of the world) experienced less rainfall and snowpack. I think its comical how I see nothing on this post from people complaining about global warming except from you...and you're the one who brought it up! Ha! I can tell your a right wing nut job because how many conservatives are out there as wildlife biologists or ecologists or scientists doing the actual research? I guarantee those educated people have a different opinion than you (and know a lot more about deer than you) . If you are right, I'm glad that the polar ice caps are BY FAR at the lowest level they have ever been and are rapidly decreasing.....good thing its just a "climate cycle" go back to school

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  5. https://giphy.com/gifs/winter-cute-disney-7YMMzcyf5Ak3C

    Actual trail cam video of mule deer sliding

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