Wed., March 12, 2014 | OUTDOORS
Winter impacts wildlife
Danielle Moe | Staff writer
NORTHWEST WISCONSIN — Wildlife officials have been monitoring this year's winter to grasp what the future impacts may be on wildlife populations. Reports of stressed or dead deer and turkeys has many concerned.
"The main thing is wild animals are wild, they are different than pets, and this is just part of being a natural wild animal. Going and surviving through these hard winters and varying weather conditions, as hard as it is to watch it, really does keep our wild animals strong," said Nancy Christel, wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Spooner.
The Winter Severity Index is a key piece of how the DNR determines the impacts of winter on wildlife. In use by the DNR since the 1970s, the WSI is calculated by the number of days with a snow depth of at least 18 inches to the number of days when the minimum temperatures were zero degrees or below. WSI points accumulate throughout the winter with points from 50 to 79 as moderate, 80 to 90 severe and points reaching over 100 as very severe.
"Basically it is the second most extreme (winter) that we have had to date yet since 1960," stated Christel. The WSI through the month of February 2014 lists Washburn and Burnett counties in the severe to very severe category, while Polk County is largely listed in the moderate category. The DNR also takes into account historical weather patterns. Christel explained that the previous 20 years were largely a time of mild winter-weather conditions. Then last year’s winter persisted into the normal spring warm-up period. Christel explained that the combination of this year’s sever winter and last year's cold spring will play into future harvest numbers for game animals.
"It is important to note that there are a lot of species that the winter is tough for them, and there are a lot of other species where this winter is actually good for them," said Christel. This winter has proven difficult for the species like deer that need to move through the snow to find food, but unlike deer raptors are having a difficult winter as well as their food sources, like small mammals, have burrowed deep into the deep, snow avoiding predation. According to Christel the small mammals and more specifically, grouse, are having a great winter because of the snow depths. Each species found in the area has their own set of naturally developed adaptations to survive in this environment, and despite good intentions people can inflict more harm than help.
"One thing that is important for Washburn, Barron, Burnett and Polk counties ... because we do have a serious concern with disease with the deer herd that there is no baiting or feed allowed in the counties even with concerns with the winter," stated Christel. Since the 2011 discovery of a CWD-infected deer in Shell Lake, the baiting and feeding of deer has been banned as the DNR and many organizations have found that the disease is transmitted through the animals saliva. Even outside of those counties, it is against DNR recommendations to feed because of several concerns. According to the DNR feeding can cause the spread of other infectious diseases besides CWD, and deer are not equipped to digest feeds like corn and hay. Feeding will also likely cause stress on the animals through fighting for food and being chased by predators or domestic dogs due to congregating behaviors in feeding spots.
"This time of year is that trying time, this is the time where the snow needs to melt off so they can get to some grass," said Christel. Deer are naturally browsers and get the best nutritional benefits from downed treetops, green branches and any grasses that may become uncovered in the snowmelt.
"If someone has a question about an animal that they see, whatever it is, they need to call us and we can talk to them and find out what is going on," said Christel. The DNR is asking individuals to report sightings of dead animals to their local wildlife biologists. In some cases necropsies may be done to determine the cause of death.
The northern region DNR service center is located in Spooner and can be reached at 715-635-2101. More information is available online at the DNR website HYPERLINK "http://www.dnr.wi.gov/"dnr.wi.gov.