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Mule deer reproduction remains low in North Dakota

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Reproduction of mule deer in North Dakota is at record-low levels for a second year in a row, and a state biologist said another mild winter is needed to help the animals rebound.

Game and Fish Department biologists who took part in an aerial survey in the western part of the state in October found a fawn-to-doe ratio of 0.59, equaling last year's ratio as the lowest since the survey began in 1954. The long-term average is 0.92 fawns per doe.

"The three consecutive severe winters from 2008-11 were devastating to our mule deer and pronghorn populations," said Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor for Game and Fish. "These winters not only greatly reduced overall mule deer abundance due to winter-related mortality, but led to poor fawn production. Three years of few young animals entering the population has resulted in an aged population with few prime-aged breeding females."

Last winter was one of the mildest on record, but Stillings said the reproductive condition of the surviving females likely was still poor because of the stress of the previous three winters. A dry summer also made it hard for fawns to survive, he said.

"A spring and summer with normal precipitation in 2013 would go a long way to promote habitat conditions more favorable for fawn survival leading, to population growth," he said.

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