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We recommend that travel management plans be creatively devised for important areas in the timbered breaks before problems related to heavy hunting pressure become chronic. A series of areas on public lands in eastern Montana could be strategically selected for maintaining and improving age diversity in populations of mule deer bucks. Accomplishing deer management objectives with carefully conceived hunter access plans may be preferable to making major changes in the hunting season structure once the problem becomes chronic. Progress in maintaining and expanding hunter access to privately owned portions of the timbered breaks and prairie-badlands environments continues under MFWP Block Management and Habitat Montana programs. These efforts represent important steps in expanding hunting opportunity and help buffer the increase in hunting pressure on public land.Mule Deer Population Ecology in Prairie-Badland EnvironmentsPrairies represent patchy environments for mule deer. Preferred habitats occur as relatively small inclusions within large areas receiving little or no use. Therefore, population density is generally low overall. Although Wood et al.(1989) documented densities of 0.3-3.0 deer/km2on the Cherry Creek study area during 1975-1987, higher densities were recorded in small areas of preferred habitat often associated with agriculture.Most mule deer populations in prairie-badland environments are closely associated with rugged badlands or
ECOLOGYANDMANAGEMENTOFDEERINMONTANA144non-timbered breaks. Availability of badlands in units larger than 4 km2during winter provided minimum snow depth, shelter from wind, preferred forage, and security from predation (Dusek 1975, Geist 1981, Wood 1987). In many prairie-badlands environments, mule deer depend on native forage species during winter. Energy available in native forage is often less than daily energy requirements. Consequently, a strategy emphasizing energy conservation during severe weather and foraging during mild conditions was vital to overwinter survival. In the absence of conifer vegetation, mule deer used topographic features to help conserve energy (Wood 1988). Winter severity and associated restrictions on habitat availability and use did not consistently limit fawn recruitment or adult survival (Wood et al.1989). Rather, environmental conditions prior to and during the growing season appeared to exert primary influence on mule deer population dynamics.During summer, springs, swales, and creek bottoms preferred by adult females during summer provided succulent forage and other resources important to fawn rearing. Annual variation in precipitation and temperature resulted in wide fluctuations in forage production and the period it remained succulent and nutritious. Wood et al.