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sUAS (drone) & Other Population Estimates

Most deer management programs start with “How many deer are there?”
Our population estimates can help with the answer.

Population estimates are not an exact science because there are numerous factors that can create an error in any method. They often provide a minimum count or can help track population trends.  Deer are sentient and highly mobile animals whose movements and behaviors differ by day, night, and seasonally, making an absolute count of all individuals challenging. With this said, an initial survey can be helpful in the deer management plan development phase to obtain a better understanding of the relative scope of the problem. If management action is taken, an additional measure of success is an impact-oriented approach: management effort is increased to the point at which conflicts, such as deer-vehicle collisions, reach tolerable levels, then the same amount of effort would be required to maintain deer densities. Be aware that regardless of the methods used and the qualifications/experience of personnel conducting such surveys, results often are contested and deemed “junk science” by those whose beliefs or perceptions are not supported by the data.


sUAS (drone) Population Estimates


We use small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), commonly known as drones, as a reliable alternative to traditional methods. sUAS can provide advantages over other density estimators, including increased accuracy and quick data collection and analysis. When estimating deer density, sUAS use infrared (IR) video to detect animals. Counts of deer or other animals, in conjunction with the area captured by the IR camera, are then used to estimate animal density. We are experienced in performing drone surveys in both rural and dense suburban landscapes and are FAA certified to fly commercially.







Other Population Estimate Methods

White Buffalo Inc. provides a suite of modern science-based animal density estimate methods and tailor these to cooperator projects based on feasibility and need. We have also found that the distance sampling method, where you drive a pre-designated route and spotlight (and/or use thermal imagery) to count deer and measure their distance from the road, works very well in suburban environments. Helicopter counts over snow and aerial FLIR counts tend to work better in larger undeveloped areas. If there are individually marked animals present, for example, associated with a research project, another method that uses the ratio of marked to unmarked animals can provide accurate estimates. The final method that is credible to estimate deer densities is using IR cameras to systematically take pictures and then extrapolate the images into a population estimate. We also will provide cooperators with method feasibility and cost differences so that methods may be tailored to project needs. Finally, we provide instruction to cooperators on how to perform the various methods and/or interpret the results to have a better baseline for their deer management program.

Review our experience in our Business Portfolio.

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Lana’i: A comparison of sUAS (drone), camera trap, and helicopter ungulate population estimates in Hawaii

With the assistance of a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we are partnering with Island Conservation and Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) to estimate axis deer and mouflon sheep density and distribution, and develop a monitoring program in the Kuahiwi a Kai program area on Lana’i, Hawaii. The main activities to accomplish these goals include 1) estimating distribution and density of ungulates using modern sUAS (drones) with infrared sensors and trail-camera technology that can be extrapolated to the rest of Lana'i, 2) comparing these efforts with DOFAW’s helicopter population estimate, and 3) developing a repeatable monitoring program for assessments in future years by Pūlama Lana’i resource managers.

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