Support the deer
Regarding the proposed wintertime closure of portions of the Methow Wildlife Area:
We as residents of this valley should be aware that the migratory mule deer herd is a profound natural treasure. These are not the deer that we are all accustomed to seeing in town or along the highway during the summer. The migratory herd transitions between alpine summer pastures and winter range areas on the valley floor. Migratory herds of ungulates are under threat the world over; we here find ourselves in the presence of a true wonder of the natural world. We also face a unique opportunity to examine our values and priorities.
Mule deer, both in this valley and throughout their range, are facing historic and unprecedented challenges. Development and changing land use practices have impacted mule deer habitat throughout the west. Widespread lowland fires convert the shrub steppe plant communities upon which deer rely for winter browse into nutritionally barren grasslands. Rising summer temperatures combine with drought to reduce the abundance and quality of forage plants in the alpine summer pastures. In the best of times mule deer in winter exist on the knife edge of survival. Human disturbance during winter can be a significant source of stress, requiring deer to expend vital energy reserves while reducing the amount of time available for foraging. Yearling fawns are most vulnerable, but no deer is immune. Winter stress can cause does (which are bred in November and carry their fawns through the winter) to either abort completely or give birth to one fawn when they may have had two.
Due to significant hard work by many local organizations and individuals, the summer range, migration corridors, and winter range utilized by the migratory mule deer remain significantly intact. Consequently, despite the many challenges these deer face we have reason to be hopeful for their future. The Methow Wildlife Area was purchased with public money to provide wildlife habitat; this action would be consistent with that purpose. I applaud the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for proposing this step for wildlife conservation. They, and the deer, deserve our support.