|Deer (g̲uwakaan) are a key source of meat for tribal members, with 94 percent of households reporting using deer during the 2017 food survey. Deer are posed to do relatively well because of climate change, with vegetation being more abundant due to the warmer weather. Nearly all community members surveyed were concerned about competition with Juneau hunters and the quality of the deer they can find, with one person saying “I don’t come into your backyard and harvest food from your place.” Several members reported deer being smaller in recent years and that a lack of snowfall was changing where they were found. Many community members had also seen the evidence of illegal hunting practices—small deer left in ditches, people with more deer than the legal limit in the back of their trucks, etc. The community showed great support for increased enforcement and local control of deer populations to better understand the effects of climate change and human pressures on deer and be able to respond to threats.|
DEER WILL LIKELY HAVE ACCESS TO MORE FOOD THROUGHOUT THE YEAR AND BENEFIT FROM REDUCED SNOWFALL.
A thick layer of snow on the ground reduces both the quality and quantity of food available—not only are there fewer plants poking through, but those that do are taller, woodier plants instead of the herbs and brambles deer prefer. Excess snow on the ground also increases the amount of energy deer burn while walking, as once the snow is above their knees, they have to change their way of walking. At the same time, rain-on-snow events are likely to increase in the near term, which can produce a frozen crust on top of the snow that deer have a hard time breaking through in order to search for food. Snowfall is expected to decline regionally, with 85 percent of the northern rainforest no longer receiving snow by the end of the century. The snowline is expected to raise 2,950 feet, significantly decreasing the wintering grounds and foraging opportunities for deer.
THE BIGGEST THREAT TO DEER IS HABITAT DEGRADATION FROM LOGGING.
Deer rely on old-growth stands with a productive understory, where the canopy layer prevents the plants below from being completely buried by snow. While young-growth stands can provide abundant food for deer in the summer, without a canopy layer, that food is generally unavailable and can lead to mass starvation during the winter. Scientists have found that the majority of the deer population loss on Prince of Wales is driven by young growth stands providing unsuitable deer habitat.
INCREASING COMPETITION FROM URBAN HUNTERS CAN ALSO THREATEN COMMUNITY HUNTING ACCESS.
While the region around Hoonah has some of the highest densities of deer in Southeast, hunters from out of town still place pressure on local users, especially near town. Community members were very concerned about the impact of urban users on the local deer population. While some were concerned about the number of users coming to Chichagof to hunt deer, the overwhelming majority were more concerned about non-local users using unsustainable hunting practices, targeting does and young deer that local users do not traditionally shoot. Increased pressure can force local hunters to travel further, using more gas and time, to get the same number of deer and place additional stress on users who rely on deer to feed their families.
SPREAD OF DISEASES, SUCH AS CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE (CWD) MAY THREATEN DEER IN THE FUTURE.
Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease similar to mad cow disease that is caused by a misfolded protein in the brain and is 100 percent lethal once symptoms develop. The disease is transmitted when brain or spinal tissue cross-contaminates with meat and is eaten. There are currently no records of CWD within the state of Alaska, but it has been recorded in 29 US states and 3 Canadian provinces. While the state does maintain a testing program, it focuses on animals hit by vehicles near Anchorage and testing hasn’t been conducted in Southeast since 2007.
1.1: Continue to advocate for the protection of old-growth stands and restrict logging to young-growth stands
1.2: Continue tree thinning treatments in previously logged areas to encourage healthy regrowth, particularly in riparian environments
1.3: Continue and increase youth and community engagement in State and Federal decision making processes about subsistence hunting regulations
1.4: Continue the development of youth-focused harvesting and processing activities to increase community knowledge on subsistence deer use
1.5: Continue research into community harvest and hunter efforts around deer to increase understanding of deer populations and their threats
1.6: Creation of community-managed designated areas for berry production that are protected from deer foraging
2.1: Support bear conservation efforts that can reduce the threat of bear predation on deer
2.2: Create, or support the creation of, an educational deliverable teaching non-locals traditional and sustainable deer hunting practices
2.3: Continue efforts to implement a Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule that would increase federal government consultation with local Indigenous tribes
2.4: Utilize aerial imagery and LIDAR to establish a baseline for tree canopy coverage and identify areas of concern
2.5: Encourage and motivate Hoonah youth to participate in natural resource management, especially habitat restoration projects
2.6: Implement heavily enforced hunting regulations against non-local deer hunters.
3.1: Continue monitoring deer populations in and around Hoonah for chronic wasting disease
3.2: Start the collection of long-term data on canopy gaps in forest stands near Hoonah to monitor snowpack, light penetration, and other factors significant to understory growth
3.3: Continue support of the Roadless Rule and other conservation measures in the Tongass National Forest 3.4: Creation of artificial canopy gaps to improve high-quality winter forage (i.e., Vaccinium spp. and evergreen plants) in young-growth stands