Minnesota DNR using GPS collars to track fawns’ movements

Published 6:58 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

By Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio News

Researchers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are tracking dozens of fawns as part of a three-year study in southern Minnesota.

The study — the first of its kind in southern Minnesota in about two decades — should provide valuable information about how deer are moving across the landscape, their habitat preference and survival rates.

Now in the second year of the three-year study, wildlife researchers used a drone with a thermal imaging camera to locate about 80 newborn fawns, said Eric Michel, DNR research scientist based in Madelia.

Roughly the same number of fawns were captured last year, he said.

The team checked the fawns’ size and health, then fitted them with flexible GPS collars that allow the researchers to track their movements. If the fawn is idle for eight hours, the collar sends a mortality signal.

After 18 months, the collar is designed to fall off, which is enough time for researchers to track how they spread out as they get older.

“A lot of these fawns, they’re going to leave their (birth) home range, and they’re going to find a new area to be at about a year to 18 months,” Michel said. “We’re starting to see some of our fawns that we collared last year go off on these dispersal events, and that’s a really big part of this study as well.”

The study results will inform the DNR’s management of the deer population, including setting harvest limits for hunting season, Michel said.

But it also should provide clues about how deer are moving and surviving in southern Minnesota, which has changed significantly over the decades.

Farming and development have fragmented the land and left some areas with little remaining deer habitat, Michel said.

“We’re going to get some really fine-scale movement data, and that should show us a lot about how fawns are using the landscape that they have,” he said.

The study won’t provide information on the presence of chronic wasting disease, since the fawns aren’t being tested for it. But the data on movement and dispersal rates could help researchers if CWD does show up in the area, Michel said.

“We’ll know a little bit better how animals are already moving across the landscape, which could inform management down the road if we needed it,” he said.

If the study is successful, it could potentially be replicated in other parts of the state, Michel said.