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Powerful Stories

October 10, 2022
three people with two deer
Image courtesy of Kevin Monteith

Associate Professor Kevin Monteith’s research brings the stories of mule deer to life, helping us understand and appreciate these charismatic creatures.

 

By Micaela Myers 

Big game always played an important role in University of Wyoming Associate Professor Kevin Monteith’s life — not just as food on the table but also as inspiration. Observing animals such as mule deer in their natural habitat, Monteith finds them to be majestic, charismatic and fascinating. Among their attributes, deer are highly maternal and invest a great deal in their offspring.

“It’s hard not to be inspired,” he says.

Though initially Monteith hated school, his research starting as an undergraduate inspired him to keep going. He stayed at South Dakota State University for his master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences then earned his doctorate in biological sciences at Idaho State University. In 2015, he came to UW and is based in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in the Department of Zoology and Physiology.

“We’re a group of large-mammal ecologists who work on big game species throughout the West,” he says of his research group. “Much of our work seeks to understand long-lasting questions with regard to what drives populations, how they are influenced by change in their environment and what we can do from a management perspective.”

This includes addressing declines in populations. The research group closely follows big game movements, survival and reproduction to uncover their nuanced relationships with the environment, often through capture, collaring and monitoring animals for multiple years. 

“We’ve come to appreciate how intimately connected these animals are with their world,” Monteith says.

Not only does following animals so closely supply valuable data, but it also allows the researchers to tell powerful stories that help connect people to animals and nature. For example, understanding how faithful a mule deer is to her migratory route — to which her entire reproductive cycle is synchronized — and how that is passed across generations gives us a much deeper appreciation for these majestic creatures and their sensitivity to environmental change.

“When we can understand the intimate connections between these animals and their environment, it naturally drives us closer to them,” Monteith says.

Studying big game requires rigorous fieldwork that wouldn’t be possible without the financial and logistical support of state and federal agencies, foundations and nonprofit organizations. It also wouldn’t be possible without UW’s talented graduate students.

“I’m incredibly fortunate to work with a hard-charging, passionate and talented group of people,” Monteith says. “Being able to mentor and work with my team is one of the greatest opportunities I’ve had in my career. I’ve learned a lot from them, and it is a very rewarding experience to watch people grow, ultimately excel, and make great advancements in the field.”

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