DWR’s Fowlks to lead western fish, wildlife group

Mike Fowlks

During the recent annual Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conference held in Manhattan, Kansas, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director Mike Fowlks was voted as the president of the organization, according to DWR spokesperson Faith Jolley.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies was started in the 1920s as a way for the various wildlife agencies to coordinate and support one another. The organization has an annual conference each year, and at this year’s meeting, several new bylaws, a new strategic plan and the new leadership was voted on in a July 16 meeting, said Jolley.

“It was humbling for me to see that the western directors have confidence in my ability to move WAFWA into a new direction,” Fowlks said. “I look forward to taking the governance of WAFWA to a higher level and making it a more efficient and effective organization.”

Fowlks will serve as the president for one year until the elections take place during next year’s conference. As president, he oversees and creates new committees within the organization and nominates the chairperson for each committee, said Jolley.

During the conference, Fowlks also became the director sponsor for the Mule Deer Working Group.

What is the Mule Deer Working Group?

WAFWA started the Mule Deer Working Group in 1997. It consists of mule deer and black-tailed deer biologists and experts from wildlife agencies in 19 states located in the western U.S. as well as three western Canadian provinces and two territories. Each agency has one representative in the group, and the group meets twice each year in various locations across the U.S. and Canada, said Jolley.

What does the group do and why is it important?

The organization was created for wildlife agencies in western North America to collaborate on the conservation and management of mule deer and black-tailed deer, said Jolley.

“It is important for biologists to talk to each other because we all have a lot of common issues that we face in our different areas, and we often have common goals,” said Jim Heffelfinger, Mule Deer Working Group chair and Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife science coordinator. “When we start asking around to different agencies, we find out that others are frequently working to address the same issues, so by collaborating, we are more efficient and successful.”

The group publishes informational documents and guidelines each year on mule deer management, habitat conservation, and successful management practices. Recently, the group teamed up with wildlife veterinarians to author a report about chronic wasting disease, a fatal contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose, said Jolley.

During last week’s WAFWA conference, the group announced that it will be writing a comprehensive book about mule deer, something that hasn’t happened in nearly four decades. It also worked on five new fact sheets on various topics including historical and current deer populations and determining the age of mule deer.

“It’s a privilege to be the director sponsor of the Mule Deer Working Group because of the fantastic work that they do,” Fowlks said. “The working group’s efforts increase our collective knowledge of what mule deer need to thrive, it helps us identify threats to mule deer populations in Utah and the West, and it helps us understand how to mitigate those factors. By collaborating with other wildlife professionals, our ability to manage for healthy, robust populations of mule deer in Utah and all over the western part of North America increases.”

As the director sponsor of the group, Fowlks will provide guidance and ensure the group is meeting the needs of the various wildlife agencies, said Jolley.

The group is also working with several federal land management agencies to identify important winter range and migration routes for deer, so they can improve the deer’s ability to reach the critical winter and summer habitats they need, said Jolley.