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Mule deer, white-tailed deer expand range into Alaska

Sep 3, 2019

(Image courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

New species of deer are moving into parts of Alaska, including the Upper Lynn Canal. Alaska Department of Fish and Game is gathering information on these ungulates.

White-tailed and mule deer are not native to Alaska, but the state’s Department of Fish and Game says they’re colonizing the 49th state. That’s starting in areas proximate to the Canadian border, where white-taileds and mule deer are known to live.

Carl Koch is an Area Wildlife Management Biologist in Juneau. He oversees the Upper Lynn Canal game management unit, 1D.

“For many years, but even before I’ve had this job, we’ve had rumors of mule deer in the Skagway area. And even maybe a photo or two that folks weren’t 100 percent sure whether they were mule deer or not,” he said.

In May, Koch got a photo that allowed him to identify a male mule deer in the Skagway area. According to a Fish and Game publication, mule deer have been seen in Fairbanks and even the North Pole. And Koch says the Parks Department has received reports of white-tailed deer near Haines.

Resident Betsy Shiner saw one of the new deer this year at Chilkat State Park.

“I grew up in Michigan identifying whitetail deer daily,” she said.

“It was undoubtedly a white-tail deer.”

Shiner says she’s seen thousands of white-tailed deer, including a couple of unfortunate deer/vehicle interactions.

Smaller Sitka blacktail deer are common in the area. You can tell who’s who by watching their hind quarters. Mule deer have a large white patch on the rump and the tip of the tail is black. White-tailed deer have broad tails that are white when raised. Both species are bigger than Sitka blacktail deer.

It’s not unusual for animals to expand their range, but the Department of Fish and Game doesn’t know why these deer are migrating or what they’re bringing with them. They’re concerned deer from Canada may bring in wasting disease or ticks.

Since the Department is eager to learn more about these populations, it’s open season on all mule deer and white-tails. Koch asks that hunters send photographs and samples, which is a nice way of saying big chunks of dead deer.

“We would like to have them provide the head with the brain and skull intact, heart with lungs attached, hide, and pellets. But they should feel free to give me a call, so we can talk more about that stuff,” he said.

State hunting regulations say you have to call Koch before taking a deer, but he’s got an update: he’d rather hunters go ahead and get the sample than let a deer go because they didn’t have a chance to call. The department will return the meat and antlers.

Blacktail deer are common in Southeast Alaska, but there’s no hunting season for them in Unit 1D. Their population isn’t robust enough to support it. So Koch says to be careful when identifying the white-tailed and mule deer.