The New Brunswick whitetail deer herd has declined more than 70 per cent since the mid-1980s, according to population estimates obtained by CBC News.

The figures received through a Right to Information request show the deer herd was estimated to be about 270,532 animals in 1985.

The latest estimate of the province's deer population, taken in 2014, indicates there are approximately 74,338 animals remaining. 

The department cites heavy snowfall amounts and coyotes as factors in the decline.

"We know that winters are very, very influential on deer numbers," said Joe Kennedy, the deer biologist for the Department of Natural Resources.

"For example in 2008 and 2009, we had two back-to-back severe winters just like we had in 2014 and 2015 and then in 2010 we had seen a reduction on the deer harvest below 5,000. Following that we had mild or average winters and the population had rebounded."

Kennedy was referring to a rebound of about 15,000 deer since 2010.

Steady Snowfall  

CBC News gathered snowfall amounts from Environment Canada, from 11 areas in New Brunswick.

Snowfall amounts in Saint John, Bathurst, Fredericton, Moncton, Edmundston, Gagetown, Saint-Leonard, Doaktown, Charlo, Shippagan and Rexton were recorded from 1970 to present.

In some cases data at specific weather stations was not available, so data from alternate stations, located less than 20 kilometres away, was used.

Overall, the data did not show a trend of increasing snowfall amounts.

Kennedy said the impact to deer population is not snow alone. 

"The inclusion of coyotes in the mid-80s is the most significant factor," said Kennedy.

"This new significant predator entered the province in the 80s but really peaked out in the late 80s. We knew that the coyotes were taking far more deer throughout the winter than ever before." 

Snow levels in N.B.

The above graph shows the snowfall averages gathered from environment Canada weather stations from 1970 to 2011 from 11 areas across New Brunswick. The trend does not show an increase of snowfall amounts in the province during the time the provincial deer population has shown a decline. (CBC)

The human factor 

When asked what role forestry practices played in the decline of whitetail deer, Kennedy initially refused to comment.

"I'm not getting into that," he said.

Kennedy, speaking to the department's communication officer, Marc Belliveau, said, "he's trying to get into the habitat questions here"

Belliveau responded he thought the question was fair given the interview subject matter.

Kennedy then agreed to comment, stating there are designated deer wintering areas across the province that all forestry companies must protect.  

"There is no forestry operations in those deer wintering areas unless it benefits the long term habitat supply," said Kennedy. 

RAW: DNR response on deer numbers2:51

Rod Cumberland, New Brunswick's former deer biologist, now works as an instructor at the Maritime College of Forestry Technology.

He said he believes human impacts on habitat are central to the decline.

"Harsh winters and coyotes do control deer populations a lot, from one year to the next," said Cumberland.

Cumberland said those factors cause the short-term fluctuations in deer numbers.

"The long-term trends, the ones you see in the '80s from where we are now, that's a long-term trend. That has to be caused by habitat," said Cumberland.

Rod Cumberland

Rod Cumberland, a former DNR deer biologist, said he believes habitat issues, such as forestry practices, are to blame for long-term declines in deer numbers. (CBC)

"To bring your population from a high of where it was from about 200,000 deer to the low of where it is now, there is something out there working other than coyotes and winter."

Cumberland said he blames forestry practices such as herbicide spraying for removing the food source and impacting the population.

"We've been doing it for 30 years and I think that has changed how much food is available out there," said Cumberland.

"Let's not pretend that it doesn't have a huge impact on the wildlife that use it."

The low whitetail population recorded in the early 1970s is attributed by the department to unregulated hunting practices and predates mandatory deer registration, as well as the practice of limiting hunters to taking a single deer during the annual harvest.