Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Are there deer here?


June 22, 2017

Resident Alexis Dombrock said she was more than surprised to see a deer bound along Lutak Road near the ferry terminal on May 28.

“I was in such a shock I couldn’t even take a picture,” Dombrock said. She said she was returning to town from a family trip to Chilkoot Lake around 7 p.m.

“Thirty years of living in Haines and I’ve never seen one. It was a holy cow moment,” Dombrock said.

Residents, guides and hunters say deer are around town, but where and in what numbers are harder to pin down. Sitka black-tailed deer, a subspecies of mule deer, are common in Southeast Alaska, Yakutat, Prince William Sound and Kodiak.

Black-tailed deer were introduced to Sullivan Island, about 15 miles south of downtown in the 1950s by the U.S. Forest Service. They are still in abundance there, with a population large enough to sustain hunting, said state wildlife biologist Carl Koch.

But there aren’t enough deer around Haines to warrant trying to keep data on them. “We don’t have formal population estimates for deer in unit 1D because the anecdotal information indicates there isn’t a harvestable surplus so therefore no hunting season,” Koch said.

“I spoke with a colleague who says that we’ve gotten occasional reports in the Mud Bay area of Sitka black-tailed deer over the years,” Koch said. “Skimming the map, we can guess that deer in the Lutak/ferry area could have come from the west side of Chilkat Inlet, or could be Mule deer that moved down from the north (the Skagway area),” Koch said.

Big game guide Larry Benda said he hasn’t seen a deer in his 20 years here. “I was never lucky enough to see one, but I wish they would be here in good population,” Benda said. Bobby Jensen, who trapped here for about seven years, said he’s seen deer by the former tank farm on Lutak Road and one was hanging around a subdivision there.

“It’s not like something new in the area. But it seems like they hit a wall here and can’t get a population going,” Jensen said.

Alaska State Trooper Trent Chwialkowski said that a trooper responded in 2015 to a black-tailed buck that had fallen off a steep ledge and died on Lutak Road.

Biologist Eric Holle said he has seen a few deer in his 20 years here. Like Jensen and others, Holle figures predator species, deep snow loads, and tough competition from longer-legged moose keep deer populations in check.

“It wouldn’t be surprising if numbers are increasing because of the mild winters,” Holle said. He said it’s possible deer could swim about a quarter mile at low tide from Sullivan Island to the mainland.


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