• Resilience Of A Deer Hunting System In Southeast Alaska: Integrating Social, Ecological, And Genetic Dimensions

      Brinkman, Todd J. (2009)
      I examined the interactions of key components of a hunting system of Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska to address concerns of subsistence hunters and to provide a new tool to more effectively monitor deer populations. To address hunter concerns, I documented local knowledge and perceptions of changes in harvest opportunities of deer over the last 50 years as a result of landscape change (e.g., logging, roads). To improve deer monitoring, I designed an efficient method to sample and survey deer pellets, tested the feasibility of identifying individual deer from fecal DNA, and used DNA-based mark and recapture techniques to estimate population trends of deer. I determined that intensive logging from 1950 into the 1990s provided better hunter access to deer and habitat that facilitated deer hunting. However, recent declines in logging activity and successional changes in logged forests have reduced access to deer and increased undesirable habitat for deer hunting. My findings suggested that using DNA from fecal pellets is an effective method for monitoring deer in southeast Alaska. My sampling protocol optimized encounter rates with pellet groups allowing feasible and efficient estimates of deer abundance. I estimated deer abundance with precision (+/-20%) each year in 3 distinct watersheds, and identified a 30% decline in the deer population between 2006-2008. My data suggested that 3 consecutive severe winters caused the decline. Further, I determined that managed forest harvested >30 years ago supported fewer deer relative to young-managed forest and unmanaged forest. I provided empirical data to support both the theory that changes in plant composition because of succession of logged forest may reduce habitat carrying capacity of deer over the long-term (i.e., decades), and that severity of winter weather may be the most significant force behind annual changes in deer population size in southeast Alaska. Adaptation at an individual and institutional level may be needed to build resilience into the hunting system as most (>90%) of logged forest in southeast Alaska transitions over the next couple decades into a successional stage that sustains fewer deer and deer hunting opportunities.