Researchers and Florida Keys refuge managers are putting together a stakeholder group and will hold public workshops to help better manage Key deer, an endangered species that experienced a record number of deaths in 2012.
The purpose of the workshops will be to identify goals and objectives for maximizing the long-term survival of the species and minimizing deer-human conflicts, said Duane Diefenbach, head of the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State University. At the same time, wildlife managers need to take into consideration the concerns of residents in the area.
"Key deer need to be protected and local residents need to be comfortable with the process," said Diefenbach, who is overseeing the working group. "Identifying a clear set of objectives is a critical first step before identifying and prioritizing actions to protect Key deer."
Key deer deaths in 2012 were the highest on record since the National Key Deer Refuge managers started formal mortality counts in 1996, according to statistics.
Cars are the main killers, Refuge Manager Nancy Finley said. Deaths have steadily risen over the past six years -- climbing from 112 in 2007 to 197 last year. Of the 910 Key deer deaths recorded during that period, 75 percent have been blamed on vehicle collisions, the statistics show.
A number of stakeholders have already been identified and agreed to participate in the workshops, including representatives from Monroe County government, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Key Deer Protection Alliance.
Also participating in the workshops will be experts on Key deer, including Nova Silvy and Roel Lopez from Texas A M University, Nils Peterson from North Carolina State University, and veterinarian Dr. Doug Mader of Marathon Veterinary Hospital.
The stakeholder group will convene for three workshops between early January and the end of March.
Nova Southeastern University student Yanae Barroso, who grew up in Key West, wants to be included in the working group. She has authored a paper on the Key deer death issue.
Barroso has been working with the refuge and Monroe County on the new roadside signs warning people of Key deer and reminding them to not feed the animals, she said.
"We are still awaiting Monroe County to install the new signage, which I am really looking forward to, as I have been working on this effort since the fall of 2012," Barroso said. "It will be extremely gratifying to see these efforts come to life."
Anyone interested in participating in the workshops may contact Diefenbach at 814-865-4511 or atDRD11@psu.edu.