CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Division of Natural Resources officials have issued a warning to West Virginians: Be on the lookout for people spotlighting deer from roads.
From early August through mid-September, folks seen shining spotlights will most likely be DNR personnel surveying the state's whitetail herds. Agency officials say the so-called "spotlight surveys," during which biologists and game managers observe deer and calculate their numbers, will take place in 36 of the state's 55 counties.
"Spotlight surveys provide us with supplemental information on deer [population] densities," said Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief. "They give us a better idea of how many deer we have and how those deer are distributed."
This will be the second straight year that agency workers have conducted the surveys. Johansen said last year's inaugural effort laid the baseline against which this year's and future surveys can be compared.
"The idea is to survey the same sections of road each year, so we know we're comparing apples to apples," he explained. "Since we know the length of each road section, and we record approximately how far we can see into the woods or fields from each observation point, we can calculate the area we've surveyed and then calculate the deer density from the number of deer we observed within that given area."
DNR officials don't want to cause alarm among residents who see spotlight surveys taking place, so they try to let people know in advance what's going to take place.
"First, we send out a statewide news release that we're going to be doing these surveys," Johansen said. "Second, our crews go out prior to the actual survey work and place notices on doors along these routes to let folks know we're going to be doing it. Third, when we do the surveys our people are always in marked state vehicles, with magnetic signs that indicate that spotlight surveys are taking place."
Two other important distinctions: DNR personnel will not - repeat, not - be shooting or capturing deer, nor will they be entering onto private property.
"All of our work will be done from the roads," Johansen said.
After all the survey data are collected, biologists will superimpose them onto Geographic Information System maps and, using what Johansen calls "some pretty complicated software," be able to determine how deer densities vary based on different habitat types.
"We had done this sort of sampling on a much smaller scale prior to last year, tweaking our procedures and working out the bugs," he said. "Last year was the first year we went statewide with it, and we think we got some very good data from it. We definitely plan to do it long term."
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.