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Chad Blass
Michigan State University

I spent my childhood in Central New York’s Finger Lakes Region. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Science from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. During that time, I worked with the University of Missouri on a large-scale mourning dove telemetry and habitat assessment study in western Missouri. I gained additional field experience working on research looking at the genetic structure of fish species in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York, and examining reef and rainforest ecology in Queensland, Australia. After completing my B.S. I attended Central Michigan University, where I obtained my Master’s in Conservation Biology. My thesis research focused on habitat selection and impacts of mute swans, an invasive species, on Michigan’s Great Lakes coastal wetlands. I was also a crew leader for two large-scale Great Lakes coastal wetland biomonitoring projects that examined the current status and trends of coastal wetlands within the entire Great Lakes basin funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. In 2012, I was accepted into the Ph.D. program in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University. Upon completing my Ph.D. I plan to continue addressing applied research questions in conservation and management using landscape genetic techniques.

Chad Blass

Social-spatial behavior and management of white-tailed deer in urban and suburban environments

With increasing urban sprawl, human-wildlife conflicts have become a focal point for managing wildlife populations. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are of interest because of the damage they can cause and the controversy stirred by attempts at active management to reduce populations. Current management practices, such as culling and contraception, have been relatively unsuccessful due to the challenges of gaining community-wide political support.

Studies of the social-spatial behavior of white-tailed deer suggest it may be possible to manage deer on a neighborhood scale, thereby reducing the political challenge of identifying a management approach acceptable to an entire community. White-tailed deer form relatively stable female-female familial social groups with overlapping individual home ranges and show high levels of philopatry. This social-spatial structure has been coined the rose petal model. This model states that instead of a continuous distribution of deer across a landscape, there are discrete groups of deer that form adjacent to each other. In a field experiments in New York and North Carolina, removal of an entire social group left the area unoccupied for the next five years before new deer recolonized.

My research focuses on non-invasive genetic sampling to identify the geographic extent of these social groups in suburban environments. I am measuring the genetic relatedness to identify the social groupings and estimate the space each occupies. I will then use these findings to estimate the minimum spatial scale at which management of a local deer population could occur.

If we can successfully identify the size of the area used by individual social groups of deer, then managers may be in a position to offer a variety of management solutions tailored to the desires of local neighborhoods. It may be possible to eliminate deer in one neighborhood and allow populations to occur in adjacent neighborhoods, thus meeting the objectives of residents in both.

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