Published November 18, 2012, 05:00 AM

TALKIN WITH DOKKEN: Deer population dwindles

Dokken explains the decline in deer numbers this season.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

Q. I know they say there are fewer deer this year, and the Game and Fish Department issued fewer permits, but what has impacted the population and caused it to dwindle here in North Dakota? Have any other wildlife populations been impacted?

A. The decline in deer numbers largely resulted from a combination of three consecutive tough winters beginning in 2008-’09 and several years of aggressive harvest. In southwest North Dakota, an outbreak last fall of a viral disease called EHD — short for epizootic hemorrhagic disease — also had a negative impact on white-tailed deer numbers in some areas.

In a recent interview with the Herald, Bill Jensen, big game biologist for the Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said it’s possible the agency was too liberal for too long in its harvest strategies for white-tailed deer. The department even offered a September rifle season a couple of years in parts of northeast North Dakota.

“Up until the population was going down with the help of some harsh winters, there were a lot of people that just wanted deer dead and … mission accomplished,” Jensen said. “So, we could have maybe eased up a little bit, but we had been putting pressure on for years, and they didn’t seem to be responding.”

The tough winters also cut into pheasant populations, but the birds rebounded this summer after a mild winter and spring created ideal production conditions. Mule deer populations also suffered in the western part of the state, while bighorn sheep are doing well in the northern Badlands but struggling south of Interstate 94. Antelope populations also continue to falter.