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Tuesday, January 30 • 3:20pm - 3:40pm
SMALL MAMMALS: Survival of Gray and Fox Squirrels in Minnesota: A Case Study of the Effects of Hunting

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AUTHORS. Ryan G. Tebo, Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Group, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Andrew S. Norton, Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Group, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

ABSTRACT. Minnesota small game hunters have recently voiced concerns that squirrel populations are in decline due to overharvest and liberal hunting regulations, namely on public hunting lands within daily travel distance of the St. Paul-Minneapolis metropolitan area. To address these concerns, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conducted a 2-year study comparing survival rates of squirrels on Whitewater Wildlife Management Area (WMA), where hunting is permitted, and at nearby Whitewater State Park (SP), where hunting is prohibited. We captured and radiocollared 107 squirrels at the WMA and 101 squirrels at the SP during from July 2015 - September 2016. We estimated cause-specific squirrel mortality by fitting hazard-based, interval-censored survival models using Bayesian methods that incorporated data augmentation techniques to address a high proportion of uncertain fates. Estimated yearly survival on the WMA was 0.251 (0.146 – 0.365), whereas survival on the SP was 0.493 (0.368 – 0.624). We further investigated the effects of sex, age, and distance to hunter access during the peak of the hunting season (mid-September – early November) on squirrels in the WMA. We found little evidence for differences in survival rates by age or sex during the peak hunting season. Estimated survival during this time was 0.553 (0.419 – 0.683) for males and 0.563 (0.427 – 0.694) for females. Estimated survival was 0.590 (0.451 – 0.721) and 0.586 (0.441 – 0.723) for adults and juveniles, respectively. We did find evidence that distance from hunter access impacted squirrel survival. Squirrel survival closest to hunter access during the peak of the season was 0.484 (0.345 – 0.623), whereas squirrel survival 1 km from access was 0.687 (0.489 – 0.848). We anticipate results from this study will help us define appropriate harvest strategies and hunting regulations for squirrels in Minnesota.

Tuesday January 30, 2018 3:20pm - 3:40pm CST