The Fort Bragg Wildlife Program manages the installation’s fish and wildlife populations with the support of a team of biologists and oversees hunting and fishing through the direction of individuals recreationally hunting and fishing at Fort Bragg.
The Wildlife Program also has a hand in the enforcement of environmental and natural resource laws through their work with Directorate of Emergency Services game wardens.
The program has recently made some changes to the ways in which hunters sign out and in to hunt at Fort Bragg.
Previously, hunters could sign out online and only had to visit one of five kiosks located across Fort Bragg after their hunt; now they can also sign in electronically.
“It was for hunter convenience,” said Alan Schultz, chief, Fort Bragg Wildlife Branch, Directorate of Public Works.
However, not all hunts are suitable for electronic sign-in. Any hunting endeavor that ends in a deer or turkey kill must be brought to the Hunting and Fishing Center located across the street from McKellar’s Lodge.
Data collected about these larger animals help the Wildlife Branch better manage and understand Fort Bragg’s wildlife and their habitat.
The critical biographical data collected from the spoils of a hunt on Fort Bragg include gender, age, weight, and reproduction; information about health, disease and diet.
But, it is not just the information that is so important, it is what the data collected can tell biologists. In the 1990s Fort Bragg’s Wildlife Branch noticed a steep drop in the deer population, caused by several factors, including the encroachment of western coyotes.
The same number of hunting permits issued indicated the same amount of hunts were occurring, but the number of successful hunts was decreasing. This was an initial warning that something was amiss in the Fort Bragg deer population.
By collecting information in various ways, including the age of deer killed during hunts, biologists were able to ascertain that just two percent of the deer herds were fawns. Two percent was an unsustainable rate. The number of deer allotted for each hunting season represents the surplus in a herd, growth in the numbers of deer in the herd sustain a surplus.
“When a deer comes into the check station one of the biggest things we get from it is its age,” said Schultz. “That tells you your survival of each cohort.”
This information allows biologists to model the population of the deer.
With the completion of a 2014 study, a program to resolve the impact of the coyotes began and the Wildlife Branch has seen an increase of fawns to approximately 20 percent of the herd and an increase in the overall deer population.
Data on the health of deer populations can also help to inform Fort Bragg biologists about population numbers.
If deer show increased indicators of habitat and nutritional stress, it could be an indicator of overpopulation.
“If you’re over capacity, the individual deer are stressed, so they are not as healthy. You want to manage the herd just a little below capacity, so you have healthy, highly productive deer,” said Schultz.
The most significant impact on the population of deer explained Schultz is through the management of the doe harvest.
“We want to have a good ratio of buck to does,” he said.
Biologists carefully manage the number of does hunted on Fort Bragg hunting grounds.
During the summer, upwards of 50,000 photos taken with trail cameras bolster the hunting data by confirming gender ratios and help the Wildlife Branch best establish their harvest numbers for hunting season.
With turkeys, the data collected are similar.
The information collected on all 25 huntable species that call Fort Bragg home has a variety of uses.
For example with quail, “feather replacement is based on their age, so when you collect the wing of an animal you can tell exactly how old it is and when it hatched,” explained Schultz.
The data collected are also used in collaborative efforts with academic institutions and have been utilized by graduate students at both the Masters and Ph.D. levels for thesis and dissertation work.
“We do a lot of studies on other game, quail, fox squirrels and waterfowl. So, if we are doing studies on a population or a habitat of animals, we may collect data at that time,” said Schultz.
It is not just about the fish and wildlife, though, according to Schultz.
“We have to figure out … how do we maximize wildlife habitat while we maximize Soldier habitat,” said
Schultz.
A variety of training exercises take place on Fort Bragg.
The needs of those exercises vary, and both trainers and biologists work very closely together to ensure both Soldiers and wildlife have what they need.
Schultz also stressed the importance of the system in place for hunters.
“It’s really important that people sign out and sign in,” said Schultz. “If you are not signed out to hunt and or you are poaching at night, it is an active training area, and there are Soldiers in there in camouflage. It’s a very high safety factor.”