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1 September 2004 How many mule deer are there? Challenges of credibility in Colorado
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Conflict resolution between stakeholder groups and management agencies is a problem in wildlife management. We evaluated our success in resolving a conflict between sportsmen and the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW). Sportsmen challenged the credibility of methods used to estimate numbers of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in Colorado and demanded validating surveys to verify numbers of deer. Sportsmen, other interested wildlife stakeholders, and CDOW engaged in a conflict resolution process and designed and implemented an aerial survey to estimate numbers of deer in a specific population whose previous estimated size had been contested by sportsmen. We used helicopters to count mule deer on randomly selected sample units distributed on deer winter range in March 2001. Estimated population size was 6,782 ± 2,497 (90% CL) using stratified random sample estimators and 11,052 ± 3,503 (90% CL) when counts of deer were adjusted using the Idaho mule deer sightability model. Both aerial survey estimates supported computer-modeled population estimates of 7,000–7,300 deer that had been contested by sportsmen, and all estimates were greater than the sportsmen’s estimate of 1,750 deer, determined from their casual observations. After the survey, sportsmen did not accept survey estimates despite their involvement in the design, analysis, and interpretation of the validation survey. By failing to support results of a validation survey they had demanded, the credibility of sportsmen plummeted among other stakeholders, the Colorado Wildlife Commission, and outside public entities while credibility of CDOW managers rose. We contend that CDOW successfully met the challenges of sportsmen because the aerial-survey systems used to validate deer numbers were founded on credible science and applied within a resolution process that elicited trust from most stakeholders. We caution other agencies facing similar challenges to use tested methods that can withstand public scrutiny, allow ample time for planning and implementing, carefully assess technical and political risks associated with potential outcomes, and engage multiple stakeholders in planning efforts to gain the trust of participants. Cost of this resolution process was about $100,000 US.

David J. Freddy, Gary C. White, Mary C. Kneeland, Richard H. Kahn, James W. Unsworth, William J. deVergie, Van K. Graham, John H. Ellenberger, and Charles H. Wagner "How many mule deer are there? Challenges of credibility in Colorado," Wildlife Society Bulletin 32(3), 916-927, (1 September 2004).[0916:HMMDAT]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 September 2004

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