DOUG LEIER: Biologists use telemetry and GPS to aid research in the field

State Game and Fish Department biologists conduct a variety of studies every year. The familiar ones are those that provide counts or indexes that factor into season setting and limits, and also set hunter and angler expectations.

Doug Leier

State Game and Fish Department biologists conduct a variety of studies every year. The familiar ones are those that provide counts or indexes that factor into season setting and limits, and also set hunter and angler expectations.

Sometimes, it's fairly obvious why fish or game populations are up or down. In years when many wetlands are dry, it's likely that biologists will see fewer ducks. After an extremely mild winter, pheasant numbers likely will improve from the previous year.

But sometimes, the reasons populations go up or down aren't so evident. Game and Fish biologists, often with the help of university graduate students, are sometimes involved in studies designed to answer the unknowns.

Several of those types of studies are ongoing in North Dakota this fall. Here's a rundown on some of them.

• Ecology of mountain lions in the Badlands: Game and Fish researchers have been able to put radio-collars on several mountain lions to help obtain information on home range, movement, survival and prey use for modeling North Dakota's mountain lion population. They also are monitoring harvest impacts and assessing the influence of mountain lions on primary prey (big game).


• Sharp-tailed grouse in western North Dakota: Starting in 2010, researchers trapped and fitted more than 200 sharp-tailed grouse and their chicks with tracking devices in an effort to get a baseline idea of how grouse move and survive in relation to the influences of development and landscape changes in western North Dakota.

The data will provide biologists with a better idea of how the native population is doing, nest success, and how many chicks are recruited into the fall population for the hunting season.

• Wild turkey abundance in North Dakota: Researchers use roadside brood count data, winter landowner and rural mail carrier surveys and other information to summarize relative abundance of wild turkeys in North Dakota. With these estimates of abundance, Game and Fish biologists can better manage populations across the state with regulated spring and fall harvest, and maintain healthy, sustainable populations in the future.

• Mule deer in western North Dakota: This is a collaborative five-year study in which about 90 female mule deer were captured last winter and fitted with GPS radio tags so biologists could track their daily movements. The study is designed to identify the influence of energy and other development on mule deer populations in the western part of the state. The results will provide valuable information to wildlife managers on how to avoid or minimize potential impacts.

• White-tailed deer in seasons: An ongoing study in northeastern North Dakota has involved trapping and fitting dozens of deer with radio-collars to allow researchers to track the animals' movements from summer to winter habitats. The research also will reveal survival rates and fall recruitment of fawns into the winter population.

• Trapping muskrats: In 2011, North Dakota expanded its trapping regulations to allow for float sets -- traps set on a floating board or log --to catch muskrats during spring.

To minimize potential incidental injury or take on waterfowl, North Dakota regulations require covering of float sets with wire mesh, wood or plastic, but must not have openings exceeding 8 inches to minimize trapping of non-target species. One of the objectives of this study is to estimate the encounter rates of waterfowl with muskrat float sets.

Honestly, this is just scratching the surface of the work being done on the ground and behind the scenes. To learn more, check out the February 2013 issue of North Dakota Outdoors magazine online at the Game and Fish Department's website at


Leier is a biologist for N.D. Game and Fish Department. Reach him at . Read his blog at

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