Odocoileus hemionus (hemionus) on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon: a study of wildlife nutrition, metabolic response and interaction of the herd with the winter habitat on the north Kaibab Plateau
A mule deer herd exists on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, located on the North Kaibab Plateau. Historical references to this indigenous mule deer herd presented reports of periodic population irruption and collapse. Partially funded by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Arizona Deer Association, examination of herd nutritional and metabolic status from the Fall 2005 - Spring 2008 was completed at the request of AzGFD and ADA. Habitat analysis included forage micro-histological, protein, and caloric content plus whole blood and plasma assays gauging herd metabolic response. Modelling was completed using best management practices wildlife energy demand calculations and principal component analysis. Forage quality analysis and modelling suggest a sufficient amount of nitrogen (N) available (DPI) to the deer for protein synthesis. Energy analysis (MEI) of forage suggest caloric deficiencies are widely prevalent on the north Kaibab plateau. Principal component analysis integrates forage and metabolic results providing a linear regression model describing the dynamics of forage utilization, energy availability, and forage nitrogen supply with metabolic demand and response of the mule deer herd. Most of the plasma and blood metabolic indicators suggest baseline values for the North Kaibab mule deer. Albumin values are in agreement with albumin values for mule deer in the Southwest. I suggest that the agreed values become a standard for mule deer in the Southwestern U.S. As excess dietary N is converted to a caloric resource, a continual state of under-nutrition exists for the deer upon entering the N. Kaibab winter range. The population is exceeding the nutritional resource plane that the winter habitat provides. Management recommendations include implementation of multiple small-scale habitat rehabilitation efforts over time, including invasive juniper (Juniperous osteosperma) and piñon (Pinus edulis) management, prescribed burning to control big sage (Artemesia tridentata) populations, and reseeding treated areas with a seed mix of native shrubs, grasses and forbs. I recommended that the population size of the North Kaibab deer herd is maintained at the current size with natural selection controlling growth, or the population be artificially reduced through increased hunting opportunities.