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Extreme drought in sagebrush country is affecting populations of big recreation similar to mule deer as properly. Without enough rain or snow, the bunchgrasses and wildflowers deer eat could die back or go dormant. Higher temperatures additionally cause more evaporation from leaves, so plants lose what little water they’ve managed to absorb. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the animals’ ensuing poor diet has translated to smaller newborn fawns, much less milk production in lactating does and smaller antlers on bucks. And malnourished deer are much less likely to survive winter or successfully evade predators.

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In 2020, Utah’s estimated statewide population was 314,850 mule deer, about 54,000 fewer than in 2018, largely because of extreme drought. The decline prompted the Utah Wildlife Board to decrease the number of permits obtainable to hunters last year. Another threat to sagebrush wildlife in a hotter, drier world is the rapid unfold of invasive annual grasses. Because they are higher tailored to milder winters and extra Health News-arid summers than many natives, these weeds are steadily infiltrating higher-elevation habitats. Yet even small invasions of nonnatives such as cheatgrass double the risk of wildfire. In parts of Idaho’s Snake River Plain which might be dominated by extremely flammable cheatgrass, fires now occur every three to 5 years as opposed to the historical common of 60 to 110 years.

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“They are fuel to the fireplace; we now have to deal with invasive annual grasses or we’re going to lose the sagebrush ecosystem,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sagebrush Ecosystem Team Invasive Species Coordinator Lindy Garner.