Give Wildlife Plenty of Space This Winter

January 25, 2017 by  

I’ve been getting peppered with questions about winter and wildlife since the snow began to fall and the wind started to blow back in late November and early December.

Until just recently, the snow continued to accumulate, and the wind continued to blow it around, while temperatures plunged below zero at night more often than not.

Deer in Winter

Just about every winter in North Dakota has its times that are more difficult for man and beast. (Photo courtesy NDGF)

The past week or so has brought some welcome milder temperatures, less wind, and little additional snow over much of the state, which doesn’t mean the tough winter battle for survival is over for wildlife, but at least for a week or two, conditions haven’t gotten any worse.

Just about every winter in North Dakota has its times that are more difficult for man and beast. There is a certain level of winter wildlife mortality even in a warmer year with hardly any snow, like we had last year. And even in years like that, the questions and concerns about wildlife still come in. But this year, there is a notable increase.

Regardless of winter severity, it’s always a good idea to give wildlife some space. This year especially, deer are congregating in many areas and their usual travel lanes are often plugged with snow, so they may start using the some of the same roads as humans do to make for easier travel from resting to feeding sites. Pheasants and partridge are also visible along roadways searching for waste grain and grit.

If you see deer or birds along roadways, be sure to slow down. In other times of the year it’s dawn and dusk when deer are more active, but from reports I’ve heard, people are seeing deer up and moving around at almost any time of day right now.

Snowmobilers are also urged to steer clear of wildlife and wildlife habitat to avoid flushing animals from cover. In recent weeks as well, State Game and Fish Department staff have observed several cases of snowmobiles traveling on wildlife management areas, which is illegal.

Game and Fish wildlife chief Jeb Williams said North Dakota’s deer and pheasant populations have probably suffered significantly this winter. “Any undue stress makes it worse,” Williams said.

This mid-winter reprieve of sorts is a welcome development. Though it may not mean a lot of melting snow, the prolonged periods of extreme cold and windchills that are the primary cause of winter wildlife mortality have at least abated for a short spell.

Game and Fish has already received many reports of dying or dead deer so far this winter. Mostly fawns and older deer are affected by the cold and wind. In addition, heavy snow cover in many locales prevents deer from accessing their usual food sources.

While it’s been a tough winter to this point, the weather moderation is a nice break. We do, however, still have a lot of winter left in North Dakota. Many resident wildlife species have been in survival mode since mid-December in much of the state. That’s a long time and there’s good reason for concern about how things will look at the end of this winter compared to last year.

For now, the best thing we can do is to minimize outside stresses on those animals that are trying to survive, and continue to work on ways to add habitat to the landscape, to increase the odds for greater wildlife survival in years to come.


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