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Official: Next two months could have impact on wildlife in N.D.

State wildlife officials say the next two months could have a major impact on wildlife in North Dakota.

Randy Kreil, North Dakota Game and Fish Department Wildlife Division chief, said it’s still too early to tell what consequences this season’s snow and cold will have on deer and other animals. Kreil said while they are resilient creatures, the length of the season could take a toll.

“April 1 we’ll have a much better idea of how the winter impacted wildlife,” Kreil said. “If March is milder than normal and April is pleasant, then winter will have only lasted December, January and February. That’s three months, and they can handle three months a lot better than they can handle five and a half.”

Kreil said one of the issues this winter has been the crust that has formed atop the snow following periods of thawing, refreezing and rain. The crust makes it difficult for animals to forage for food.

“The good point is that in the Jamestown area you have open areas and south-facing slopes and hillsides, so it’s not a uniform snow cover completely,” Kreil said. “So we don’t have 2 feet of snow on the level, which would be bad — but what snow we do have is not real good, but as long as we don’t get another couple of feet of snow on top of what we’ve got, that won’t be a significant factor as much as the length of the winter and the (temperature) severity of the winter.”

On Monday the Game and Fish Department released its annual midwinter waterfowl survey indicating there currently are 71,500 waterfowl in the state with 52,700 of them being Canada geese.

Kreil said it’s not uncommon to have hundreds of thousands of birds in North Dakota during a gentler winter. In a news release about the survey, Game and Fish migratory bird biologist Mike Szymanski said cold temperatures in early December and strong winds pushed most birds from the state, and those conditions remained the same through most of January, which led to almost all bodies of water in the state becoming iced over by the time of the survey, except in areas with warm or fast-moving water.

“Conditions leading up to this year’s survey were colder than normal, resulting in fewer birds in the state compared to the past couple winters,” Szymanski said. “Most waterfowl were pushed from North Dakota just prior to Thanksgiving.”

Kreil said the winter has not been kind to pheasants either. Pheasants are far more susceptible to the cold than deer.

“They’re doing OK, but they only have so many energy reserves to make it through the winter. If they have access to food, and they can get good thermal cover — and that’s more important than food — if they can get out of the wind and the cold than they have more of a chance to get through the winter.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Janine Vining said despite a warm up on Wednesday, three Alberta clippers are expected to pass through the area on Wednesday evening, Friday evening and Monday. A wave of warm air will lead each clipper as it passes through, but Wednesday’s possible 24-degree heat wave before the first clipper will most likely be the last time temperatures go beyond single digits above or below zero, and she expects very little snow to accompany them.

“It’s a fairly dry system; a lot of these clippers that are coming through are almost straight north now, north and northwest, and there’s very little moisture with them so it’s mainly wind and arctic air,” Vining said. “They get warm air out ahead of them with that arctic air behind them, so it’ll be warm front, cold front with wind; warm front, cold front with wind. When we say ‘warming ahead of it,’ it’s not that warm.”

Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at dluessen@jamestownsun.com

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