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Michael Anderson, Deseret News
Concerned about overpopulation and damage to the habitat had the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources relocating nearly 100 mule deer from Antelope Island Tuesday, Feb, 4, 2014. The deer were captured and put in a bag. Then a helicopter picked them up, four at at time, and took them to where biologists and wildlife officers were waiting to give them a checkup before relocating them.
They’re wild animals. They're not used to being next to people so they do stress, so we try and keep everything as quick as possible. —Kent Hersey, DWR game project manager

ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK — Nearly 100 mule deer on Antelope Island will soon have a new home as the Division of Wildlife Resources works to balance out the population before the food supply runs out.

"There's only enough forage for so many animals and so many mouths," DWR game project manager Kent Hersey said. "So what the deer will do, they don't know any better, so they just eat, eat, eat and you'll actually see damage being done to the vegetation where it won't grow back as strong and plentiful as we'd like to see it."

DWR has relocated other animals, but, with mule deer, it's a difficult process. The mule deer can be skittish because their body temperature rises quickly when they're stressed.

Wildlife officers are using some careful techniques to help the deer pack up and move. A helicopter is used that can take up to four mule deer per load. The deer are blindfolded with their legs tied together, and they're put in a bag.

"They’re wild animals. They're not used to being next to people so they do stress, so we try and keep everything as quick as possible." Hersey said.

Wildlife officers and biologists are standing by to pick them up when the helicopter lands. The animals are then given medical exams, and the goal is to be quiet and careful with them. The deer are weighed and measurements are taken. Ultrasounds are done to check for pregnancy and to look at what kind of conditions the animals are in. Then the deer are tagged and fitted with radio collars so they can be monitored on their new release site.

The deer will be relocated to two areas in the state: Elk Ridge Mountain in southeastern Utah and the Oak Creek Mountains in southern Utah.

Hersey is leading the large-scale move, and, by monitoring big game, he’s making sure populations don't get out of hand.

"We're starting to get concerns. There's just overpopulation going on here, so we're seeing some habitat damage," Hersey said. "What we're trying to do is remove the animals off this range before there's too much damage where it can't really recover on its own."

Hersey said the new, careful techniques make Utah's first large-scale mule deer move possible. After planning something like this for months, Hersey said getting up close with Utah's wildlife is what makes it all worthwhile.

"I mean, versus sitting in the office doing paperwork, certainly getting out and being able to handle them is a great thing," he said.

Email: manderson@deseretnews.com