Deer surveys have been completed at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge every year since 1989. These regular surveys provide a good picture of deer density within different sectors of refuge lands and also may be used to help control the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease among deer populations.
In a recent presentation at the annual meeting of the Friends of Quivira, Dr. Jonathan Conard of Sterling College discussed these surveys and also shared some historical information related to deer populations in Kansas.
“Huge numbers of deer” were noted by various Kansas explorers of the 19th Century, including Lewis and Clark, who spent two weeks in far northeast Kansas in 1804.
James R. Mead noted that deer were “numerous” with- in the Red Hills region upon his travels through there in 1872.
However, by 1904, after settlement of Kansas had progressed from east to west, DE Lantz of the U.S. Department of Agriculture opined that deer were “probably extinct” in the state. In 1947, Aldo Leopold, a well- known author, ecologist, and conservationist, similarly stated, “There is only one deer-less state: Kansas.”
However over the next 20 years, deer populations in Kansas blossomed. By 1965, the state held its first deer- hunting season.
Surveys of deer at Quivira began in the fall of 1989, measuring populations before and after rifle hunting sea- son.
From 2007 through 2019, Dr. Conard has led these research efforts using a method called distance sampling
surveys. This method, done at night, involves a driver of a vehicle with two passengers, one on either side of the vehicle, both of whom use spotlights to tally deer populations in sixteen different sectors spread across the refuge. These surveys are done 4-6 times per year.
For the period from 1989 to 2009, Conard noted that deer populations at the refuge increased, with some years averaging between 20-25 deer per square mile. Certain areas during specific years had population density as high as 100 deer per square mile.
From 2010 to the present, however, there has been a slight decline in the Quivira white-tailed deer population. Dr. Conard said this decrease may be related to the drought of 2011-2012.
The professor noted that “estimates of deer on the refuge are fairly good since they’re not spooked” as easily as at other locations where hunting is present.
One important reason for deer surveys is that data may be used to manage the spread of Chronic Wasting Dis- ease among deer. CWD spreads among deer both through direct and indirect contact. The Sterling College professor noted that population density may influence group density. He said that lowering population density could reduce group density among the deer and thus lessen the spread of CWD.
Conard noted that two refuge locations with a typically high density of deer are found north of the Environmental Education Center/Migrants Mile area and also along Raymond Road in the southeast corner of Quivira.
Although deer hunting is currently not allowed at Quivira NWR, data from these yearly surveys may one day be used to establish a hunt plan, which will incorporate the interests of all refuge visitors, including hunters, photographers and birders.