Deer in Pocosin Habitat after Catastrophic Wildfire

Pocosins are peat bogs that support dense, evergreen shrub cover providing abundant, low-quality browse for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). This habitat type is subject to infrequent, intense wildfires, and in May 1986 a wildfire burned across 18,200 ha (>90%) of the Holly Shelter Game Land in eastern North Carolina. We studied the response of the deer population to the fire by comparing preand postfire data on density, harvest, physical condition, and nutrition. We also analyzed nutritional quality of browse samples from burned and unburned areas for 2 years after the fire. Browse quality was higher in burned areas in the year of the fire, but differences were short-lived and were not reflected in protein levels of rumen contents. Deer density and harvest declined by about 60% the first fall after the fire probably because deer were temporarily displaced from the area. Only 36 deer were found dead during thorough postfire searches. There were apparent improvements in deer body mass and condition, but these effects were subtle or temporary. Density, condition, and harvest returned to prefire levels within 3 years.

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