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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Jonathan A. Jenks


White-tailed deer (Odocoi/eus virginianus dacotensis) populations have been declining in the Black Hills since the-mid 1970's. This decline is believed to be due to habitat deterioration. Most habitats in the Black Hills are becoming ponderosa pinedominated climax communities. Such pine communities will not support as many deer as early successional vegetative stages. To better understand the declining white-tailed deer and mule deer (Odocoi/eus hemionus hemionus) populations in the southern Black Hills, South Dakota, knowledge of both macro-habitat and micro-habitat characteristics are essential. Through such knowledge, more informed decisions can be made to improve deer populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota. During winter, all white-tailed deer selected ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) dominated habitats with > 40% canopy cover and a grass-forb understory. All white-tailed deer avoided ponderosa pine/mountain mahogany/Rocky Mountain juniper (Pinus ponderosa/Cercocarpus montanus/Juniper scopu/orum) and burned ponderosa pine dominated habitats. During winter, all mule deer selected ponderosa pine/mountain mahogany/Rocky Mountain habitats with > 70% canopy cover and a grass-forb and shrub understory. Meadow habitats were avoided by all mule deer. During summer, female white-tailed deer selected spruce (Picea glauca) and ponderosa pine/spruce. Male white-tailed deer selected ponderosa pine habitats. All white-tailed deer avoided meadows during the summer and selected habitats with > 40% canopy cover. Habitats with a shrub understory component also were selected. During summer, all mule deer selected ponderosa pine habitats and avoided burned pine, ponderosa pine/aspen (Pinus ponderosa!Populus tremuloides) and meadow habitats. Habitats dominated with> 70% canopy cover and a grass-forb and shrub understory component also were important to mule deer. Comparisons made with shrub availability and tall/shrub sapling densities indicated that horizontal cover and forage biomass was greater in the northern than the central and southern Black Hills. Results from this study confirm that available shrub ground cover increases with increasing latitude in the Black Hills. These data indicate that a substantial limitation in shrub availability exists for white-tailed deer in the southern Black Hills. It was concluded that deer in the central Black Hills were nutritionally stressed and suffered high spring mortality. Based upon habitat data from this study, I conclude that deer in the southern Black Hills also are nutritionally stressed Preliminary data for the southern Black Hills indicated comparable mortality rates with that of the central Black Hills. Therefore, winter range habitat management policies must consider interspersing areas of high canopy cover with more open clearings. By interspersing areas with reduced canopy cover, understory availability of forage and cover will increase. Furthermore, it has been documented that aspen is an important food source for white-tailed deer. Yet, aspen habitats are not as abundant in the southern Black Hills as in the northern and central Black Hills. I recommend the Black Hills National Forest also consider silvicultural practices that increase deciduous stands and tall shrub/sapling densities in the southern Black Hills. Until such habitat management policies are considered for implementation in the Black Hills, white-tailed deer will continue to experience high spring mortality and low reproductive rates.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

White-tailed deer--Habitat--Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)
Mule deer--Habitat--Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)
Habitat selection


Includes bibliographical references (pages 112-125)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2013 Robert P. Dubreuil. All rights reserved.