Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Fish and Wildlife Biology

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Paul R. Krausman

Commitee Members

Dave Naugle, Mike Mitchell


habitat use, Idaho, Montana, mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus, winter range


University of Montana


Winter survival for species such as Rocky Mountain mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) depends on an energy conservation strategy where they use habitats at lower elevations and on south facing slopes with adequate thermal or canopy cover. However, not all mule deer habitats are equivalent in components or weather conditions, which contribute to differences in habitat use patterns and behavior among wintering populations. We examined winter habitat use by mule deer on the East Front of the Rocky Mountains, Montana and Warm Springs and Sink Creek, east-central Idaho to determine how weather and vegetation affect habitat use in different winter ranges. We used radiotelemetry to locate adult female mule deer and estimated microsite habitat conditions including wind speed, snow depth, percent cover of individual plant species, hiding cover, and canopy cover during winter 2010—2011. We compared data at deer locations to random locations across each study area using logistic regression, developing models based on pooled data for each study area, times of snow accumulation, and times of high wind speeds (for the East Front). We evaluated model fit using a Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC). Our final models indicated that deer use different habitat components on different winter ranges. On the East Front, a combination of landscape and weather variables predicted probability of deer use of areas. These included percent cover of trees, creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis), curly sedge (Carex rupestris), prairie sagewort (Artemisia frigida), whitemargin phlox (Phlox albomarginata), percent slope, snow depth, wind speed, and exposure to wind. These and additional covariates changed in magnitude depending upon weather conditions. Model covariates also changed depending on deer behavior. In Idaho, tall threetip sagebrush (A. tripartita tripartita) and phlox (Phlox spp.) were important predictors of mule deer habitat use, while tall threetip sagebrush and cumulative forbs predicted use of areas under snow conditions. Mule deer habitat use differed between Idaho study areas. In the Warm Springs study area, covariates related to foraging predicted habitat use whereas in Sink Creek, covariates related to thermal or hiding cover predicted habitat use. Differences among all 3 study areas indicate that deer use different habitat components under different winter conditions. Discrepancies among winter ranges are important considerations for habitat requirements of mule deer.



© Copyright 2011 Sonja M. Smith