As mule deer appear to expand their population in Alaska, the state Department of Fish and Game is asking residents for help monitoring the animals.
Mule deer sightings have been reported in Alaska for many years, in the Interior and Southeast, but they’re not native to the state, and wildlife biologists want to know more about where they live and what parasites they may be carrying.
“We’re not saying they’re invasive,” said Carl Koch, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau, “we’re saying they’re expanding their range.”
Koch said the animals appear to be becoming more established in Skagway, and are believed to have traveled there from the Yukon Territory.
“No one has reported to us that they have taken mule deer,” said Koch, but he said Skagway residents commonly share photos of the animals online that he can confirm visually as mule deer.
Koch said he’s heard reports of sightings in Haines too, but he hasn’t been able to confirm any mule deer here from photos.
ADF&G hasn’t conducted any official population estimates of the animals in Haines or Skagway, but the department wants to know more.
“We’re trying, in general, to get a better understanding of them,” said Koch.
In 2019, the Alaska Board of Game established new regulations for hunting mule deer, allowing them to be harvested year-round. That’s unlike Sitka black-tailed deer, which have specific hunting seasons in parts of the state but are not permitted to be harvested in Haines or Skagway.
“We want to remind folks that they need to report their harvest,” said Koch, “and we’ll do what we can to help them get samples to us.”
One way to identify a mule deer, said Koch, is by their hind quarters, which include a white rump and white tail with a black tip.
One of the reasons it’s important to develop an understanding of the mule deer population and range, said Koch, is because there is concern that they could carry winter ticks and other diseases. While mule deer self-groom, other animals like moose do not, said Koch.
“Moose are very susceptible to winter tick,” said Koch.
From the information ADF&G has now, Koch said it’s unclear whether the deer that have made it to Southeast Alaska are carrying ticks, but samples from harvested animals will help the department better understand whether it is an issue.
The department is looking for samples of the head and brain, heart and lungs, liver, hide and hoof, as well as fecal samples.
Residents who have harvested a mule deer can call ADF&G at 907-465-4265 and someone at the department will walk them through how to collect and send in a sample.