State wildlife biologists plan a comprehensive look into the state's black-tailed deer population by launching a study to reveal how many deer are in Western Oregon, along with when and how they die.

State wildlife biologists plan a comprehensive look into the state's black-tailed deer population by launching a study to reveal how many deer are in Western Oregon, along with when and how they die.

The only stumbling blocks are that biologists don't yet know when or how to collect the data needed for the study, and they also don't know where the money will come from to do it.

But the newly adopted Black-Tailed Deer Management Plan calls for a five-year population study, which includes getting a tooth from every possible dead deer, from hunter-killed animals to road-kill and others.

That means hunters will be turning teeth from their blacktails to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in some fashion, but exactly where and how that program will work remains undefined.

"We need to come up with a population estimate, and to do that we need a lot of information —including the teeth," says Mark Vargas, an ODFW wildlife biologist in Central Point who worked on the plan. "It's going to come down to cost and how are we going to implement this thing."

The study is at the heart of the first-ever management plan created to guide management of western Oregon's elusive deer.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the plan Friday.

The plan also will focus agency energy on identifying blacktails' habitat needs and working with private and public landowners to improve forest lands used by these animals.

Blacktails are at the heart of Oregon's most popular general-season hunting opportunity, with more than 72,000 people pursuing bucks during the fall general rifle season.

A 2003 study concluded that blacktail hunting generates $35 million to $60 million in net economic benefits in Oregon.

Black-tailed deer tend to be secretive and prefer living in dense forestlands west of the Cascades, making them difficult to survey.

In the past, the ODFW has used reports of hunter-killed deer, wildlife damage reports and decades of survey data to generate population estimates and map out hunting seasons.

The new plan looks to build upon that by creating a so-called "sex-age-kill" study to map out the range of when and how blacktails die.

Oregon's new mandatory reporting of hunting success supplies the sex of the deer killed, as well as when and where the animals were shot. The tooth would be used to determine the age of the animal at its death.

Biologists have yet to decide exactly how big a study area to use for determining those population estimates, nor have they pinpointed how they will entice hunters to turn in those teeth, Vargas says.

But whatever the case, it is likely to be mandatory, Vargas says. A study in southwest Oregon earlier this decade sought volunteer tooth-returns, and fewer than 5 percent of hunters complied, Vargas says.

Hunters already seem accustomed to supplying information to biologists studying black bears and cougars, especially when solid data is needed to support management plans asked to pass muster in courtrooms and legislative hearings.

"I think they're getting used to the idea, and I think a lot of them are understanding the importance," says Duane Dungannon of the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association, the state's largest hunting organization. "These conclusions we're reaching about the population have to be based upon science and not anecdotal information from the field."

The study also will look at road-kill numbers, as well as those that die from disease, predation and even poaching, Vargas says.

"With more and more people and more and more roads, more of our deer are getting killed," Vargas says. "We need to get a handle on that."

Dungannon says his organization also is interested in improving information on the effects of predation, as well as improving habitat in the Western Oregon's post-clearcut society.

"There has been this prevailing concept for years that this was an animal that could take care of itself, that there was one behind every tree and they would always be there," Dungannon says. "Clearly, we've seen that's not the case."