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Give wildlife a wide berth in winter, managers urge

It's important, the tougher the winter is, that people are cognizant about where wildlife are and really view wildlife from a distance.

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North Dakota deer browse on natural foods in January 2012. Widespread snow and prolonged cold this winter have North Dakota wildlife officials concerned about the impact outdoor recreationists could have on deer and other wildlife.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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Wildlife managers are urging outdoor enthusiasts to consider where they recreate during North Dakota’s leanest months to spare already stressed animals that are simply trying to survive the snow and cold.

READ MORE OUTDOORS ISSUES COVERAGE:
“Policies or actions that reduce or limit sportsmen activities necessarily implicate wildlife conservation programs by affecting state agencies’ revenue,” the senators wrote in a letter to the federal agency.

That advice is especially true this winter, because wildlife habitat and available food sources are limited. Ongoing drought conditions leading up to winter nearly crippled the development of vegetation that many animals rely on to survive.

The Winter Severity Index at Norris Camp southeast of Warroad, Minnesota, was 61 as of Tuesday, Jan. 25. That's higher than the average of 42 for this time of the winter, but still below the winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97, which set a benchmark for winter severity in recent times.

“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, snowshoes, 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.

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Casey Anderson, wildlife division chief, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Contributed/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department

“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.”

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

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“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,” he said. “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.

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