I didn’t need to look at the rainfall data last fall to confirm how abnormally wet much of the state was. And this winter, just looking out my window without knowing the exact numbers, it’s evident we’ve had plenty of snow in the eastern part of the state.
The snow accumulation though, has tapered off over the past few weeks, and I for one have appreciated the break. I also suspect that North Dakota’s wildlife, especially in the east, is benefitting from the slight moderation as well.
North Dakota Game and Fish Department assistant wildlife chief Casey Anderson confirmed as much on a recent edition of the agency’s weekly webcast, Outdoors Online. “So far this winter they're (wildlife) doing fairly well. In that southeast portion of the state where we've had most of the snow, it's a little tougher. But so far, reports are that we're not seeing levels of die offs or high levels of stresses, where there's been problems with wildlife.”
While the western part of the state does not have nearly as much snow as the east, it’s not always just snow covering up food sources that makes winter difficult for deer, pheasants and other animals.
Anderson explained that cold temperatures create their own challenges for wildlife “The cold snaps that we've had have probably been the most taxing on wildlife so far this year,” he said. “But what wildlife are going to look for in those types of situations, they're going to look for dense cover, cattails, conifers, those kinds of things where they can trap their thermal energy.”
When deer and pheasants congregate in that type of habitat during the winter, Game and Fish has tried to caution people to steer clear of such areas to avoid pushing wildlife out of cover and into the open.
State wildlife management areas often harbor concentrations of deer or pheasants specifically because of the types of winter habitat developed there. In recent years the popularity of shed hunting – looking for antlers that drop off male deer sometime during the winter – has started to raise some concerns about wildlife disturbance at a time when it might be detrimental.
“Wildlife management areas are open year-round and we want people to use them,” said Kent Luttschwager, Game and Fish wildlife resource management section leader. “But there are times that you just have to be willing to avoid some of those areas of high use … we're just hoping people are responsible and ethical and have concerns about wintering wildlife, and will try to reduce that effort or that time of the season, to maybe more of a late March, early April, instead of all winter long on a continued basis.”
And as we all know, even with the sort of mid-winter lull we’ve had, things can change in a hurry, even in those areas of the state where, so far, snow has not been an issue. “Those late blizzards are really the ones that smack your deer and wildlife populations pretty hard,” Anderson said.