In the Adirondack region of northern New York, USA, severe weather and deep snow typically force white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to congregate in areas of dense coniferous cover and along watercourses at lower elevations. We examined 16 yards in the Adirondacks and explored the observation that deer have changed their movement behavior to incorporate residential communities within their wintering areas. We compared locations of deer herds in 2003 and 2004 to deer wintering areas mapped during the 1960s and 1970s. Deer were predominantly absent in 9 of 16 historical yards but were present in residential communities within the same drainage. Yarding areas to which deer shifted contained more residential, deciduous, and mixed cover than yards where no shift occurred, indicating that deer in residential areas were using conifer and mixed cover at a finer scale than deer in nonresidential areas. Smaller winter ranges and core areas of marked deer in a residential winter yard further imply greater concentration of resources available in these areas. Marked deer demonstrated flexibility in core winter range fidelity, a behavior that allows for more permanent shifts as habitat and food resources change or as new areas with appropriate resources are encountered. Our study suggests that low-density residential areas in lowland conifer forests may provide an energetic advantage for deer during winter due to the assemblage of quality habitat interspersed with open areas and a variety of potential food sources in environments where movement is typically constrained by deep snow. Managers should consider the potential for changes in use of deer wintering areas prior to land conservation efforts and may need to adapt management strategies to reduce conflicts in communities occupied by deer during winter.
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