West Virginia’s wildlife officials will take to the state’s back roads again in August and September to spotlight deer.
The deer won’t be killed; workers use spotlights only to observe and count the animals they see. The process, called “distance sampling,” helps biologists to fine-tune whitetail population estimates and to establish hunting regulations that kill enough deer to keep herds in balance with their habitat.
This year’s samplings will be conducted Aug. 18-29 or Sept. 15-19. Thirty-three of the state’s 55 counties will be surveyed.
Sampling procedures call for workers to drive rural roads at speeds of 8-10 miles per hour, with spotlights shining out both sides of the vehicles. All vehicles used will be plainly marked with magnetic signs that say “wildlife survey,” and all the surveyors will wear DNR uniforms.
To help prevent rural residents from thinking the surveyors are engaged in poaching, workers will distribute fliers along the routes a week before the surveys are to be conducted. The fliers let landowners know that no deer will be killed or captured alive, and that DNR workers will not enter private property.
The surveys will begin one-half hour after sunset and should take several hours each to complete. Routes will vary in length from 30 to 60 miles.
Counties scheduled for surveys include Tucker, Preston, Marion, Harrison, Barbour, Marshall and Brooke in District I; Jefferson, Hampshire, Hardy, east Mineral, east Grant and east Pendleton in District II; Pocahontas, Randolph, Upshur, Braxton and Nicholas in District III; Summers, Mercer, east Raleigh, Wyoming, south Greenbrier, Monroe and the Bluestone Wildlife Management Area in District IV; Mason, Putnam, Lincoln, Mingo, Boone and south Wayne in District V; and Gilmer, Calhoun, Pleasants, Wirt, Roane and Jackson in District VI.
Spotlighters will count the number of deer they see, record the distance the deer are standing from the road, and will specify whether the deer are bucks, does or fawns. Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, said the information will give agency biologists a better idea of how deer population densities vary in different types of habitat.
“We’ve done [distance sampling] for two years now, and the [sampling] protocol appears to be sound,” Johansen said. “It has provided us with some very good data and has helped us to make better management decisions. We’re really pleased with the information we’re gaining from it.”