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Feeding behavior and habitat preference of deer and elk on northern Utah summer range

Document Type



Utah State University

Journal/Book Title/Conference

The Journal of Wildlife Management





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Last Page


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The feeding behaviors and habitat preferences of tame, free-ranging mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) and elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) were determined in quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) types. Mule deer and elk exhibited strong grazing preference for open habitat subunits. Elk most preferred highly productive meadow bottoms, whereas deer most preferred less productive clear-cut lodgepole pine and aspen forest. Clear-cutting greatly increased deer and elk grazing use of these areas in the lodgepole pine type, but aspen clear-cuts were used at about the same level as uncut aspen. The lack of mule deer use of meadow bottoms was attributed to their need for a more digestible diet. Mule deer were generally more selective than elk, especially in meadow subunits, where density of vegetation and abundance of nonpreferred grasses and sedges apparently interfered with forage selection and prevented maximum forage consumption rates. Elk were apparently better adapted than deer to using a more diverse array of plant species as food. Consumption rates were highest on subunits the animals most preferred to graze. That both species made considerable use of less preferred habitat, where consumption rates were relatively low, suggests that deer and elk are innately motivated to explore their environments for alternate food resources. Elk generally preferred to bed wherever they finished feeding, although always in close proximity to cover. Mule deer generally retreated to specific beds that they used repeatedly throughout the summer.