Huge-eared and inquisitive, mule deer are an iconic species found just about anywhere there’s vegetation in the Western U.S.

Mule deer’s natural habitat across the West has been substantially altered by agriculture, and in some areas, the species’ numbers have declined. In the last few decades, however, many farmers have used federal conservation programs to restore sensitive lands to grass and shrub. Scientists at Washington State University want to know how agriculture and restored fields in southeastern Washington affect mule deer.

Lisa Shipley.
Rebekah Lumkes.

Trekking grasslands in southeastern Washington, Rebekah Lumkes, a School of the Environment master’s student, and her advisor, Professor Lisa Shipley, study the link between changing habitat and fawning locations — sites where baby fawns are born and cared for by does.

“Mule deer are an indicator species,” Lumkes said. “They’re sensitive to changes in habitat, especially their cover and forage, that agriculture and development have brought to the West.”

In a three‑year study funded by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Lumkes is surveying habitat at fawning sites for 30 radio-collared does from Walla Walla to Clarkston, Washington.

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