Watch for Wildlife as Winter Wanes

Doug Leier

By Doug Leier

Starting in late December, one of the most common inquiries, other than where the fish are biting, has been about the wildlife in winter and if there’s anything people can do to help them out.

As a biologist, we want what’s best for fish and wildlife. Yet, at the same time we understand the PG-13 and sometimes R rating (for violence) for the circle of life and nature.

The strong survive and the small and weak sometimes don’t.

Also realize that while this winter looks and feels a little worse than we’ve had, in any given year, no matter how little snow or how mild the temperatures, winter mortality will take its toll. Always has and always will.

I’ve written often about the real biological and science red flags with feeding wildlife. So what can you do as spring gradually arrives. Give wildlife a little space. It’s that simple.

This advice is especially true this winter as wildlife habitat and available food sources have been limited because ongoing drought conditions leading up to winter nearly crippled the development of vegetation that many animals rely on to survive.

“People in North Dakota want to have fun in winter because we have four or five months of it, which means we’ve got a lot of people out shed hunting, riding snowmobiles and track machines, those kinds of things,” said Casey Anderson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife division chief. “It’s important, the tougher the winter is, that people are cognizant about where wildlife are and really view wildlife from a distance”

“That means wait to shed hunt until later in the spring so that you’re not pushing deer in and out of thermal cover where they’re trying to just conserve energy,” he added. “You push them out into the open, then they get exposed to the elements a lot more and it adds further stress. Also, people need to realize if they’re out on a snowmobile or a machine and are pushing wildlife, chasing wildlife, that’s actually an illegal activity in North Dakota as far as harassment of wildlife is concerned.”

Anderson said it’s common for snowmobilers and others to ride in areas where snow has accumulated, such as near shelterbelts and other wooded habitat.

“Those areas can be fun to ride because that’s where the drifts are, but people also have to realize that there could be deer or other wildlife within those areas that are using that for thermal cover and a windbreak. And so, every time you push them out, it increases the amount of energy they expend to survive the next day.”

These same warnings, for shed hunters and others, also apply on Game and Fish Department owned or operated wildlife management areas where many animals gather to weather the winter months.

Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.

Featured Photo: Heed the Herd. Winter sportsmen should watch out for wildlife and do their best to avoid thermal habitat to keep from moving animals and forcing them to expend energy in the cold as the challenging season drags on. NDG&F Photo.

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