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Wildlife weathering the winter OK -- so far

Feb 17, 2019 06:48AM ● By Editor
A young deer forages in a wooded area of East Grand Forks this week. Photo:  Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

By Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald - February 17, 2019

Deer and other wildlife continue to weather the winter of 2018-19 fairly well in North Dakota and Minnesota, but that could change if cold and snowy conditions persist through March and into April, wildlife managers say.

"It's a traditional Minnesota winter—the problem is we've gotten used to the other ones," said John Williams, northwest region wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.

According to Brian Prince, district wildlife supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, the past couple of weeks have been more difficult for wildlife, but overall, deer in northeast North Dakota continue to find enough food by browsing in fields.

So far, the Devils Lake office has gotten only a handful of depredation complaints of critters congregating in farmyards to raid livestock feed supplies, Prince said; the breakdown is four deer complaints, three elk complaints and one wild turkey complaint.

The elk complaints all were in the Turtle Mountains, and the remaining complaints have been scattered around the district, including Edinburg, Rugby and Orrin, N.D., Prince said.

By comparison, the office will get 30 to 40 depredation complaints during bad winters, he said.

"It's been pretty light on that end compared to other years," Prince said of deer and other wildlife complaints. "They're starting to feel the stress of the cold and the snow, but for the most part, they're still behaving themselves pretty good."

Game and Fish staff in other parts of the state have reported similar trends.

"It is starting to pick up now over the last couple of weeks with additional snow and the cold continuing to sustain," said Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. "It's kind of evenly spread out, and each district is starting to pick up a handful here and there."

Winter by the numbers

In Minnesota, the Winter Severity Index—a tally of days with 15 inches or more of snow on the ground and days with air temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder—was at 50 or lower for most of the state except the Arrowhead as of Feb. 6, the DNR reported on its website.

That falls into the category of an easy winter, but given those parameters, areas can accumulate 2 points daily if conditions are right, and the number is starting to creep up across much of the state, the DNR's Williams said.

The WSI in the Arrowhead was in the 50 to 79 range, the DNR reported.

Snow depth across northwest Minnesota ranges from 16 to 24 inches in most areas, Williams said. In North Dakota, an interactive map from the National Weather Service showed snow depths Thursday of 16 to 30 inches across much of the state, with lesser amounts in the southwest and a pocket of 30 to 40 inches in far northeast North Dakota and adjacent northwest Minnesota.

The highest WSI in northwest Minnesota as of Monday was 63 at Norris Camp, headquarters of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area south of Roosevelt, Minn., Williams said. That number now is closer to 70.

"Right now, the index isn't pointing to something that's going to likely be a severe winter," he said. "What we've said in the past is usually, when you have values of 100 or better by mid-February, you could potentially be looking at some tough times depending, of course, on how long or how short the remainder of the winter is."

An index of 180 or higher is considered a severe winter. For perspective, the WSI at Red Lake WMA soared into the 220 range during the last nasty winter in 2013-14, Williams said.

At that level, the combination of cold and snow takes its toll on deer, he said.

"You burn energy staying warm, but with snow and cold temperatures, you burn a lot more energy because you're restricted on movements," Williams said. "So, it compounds as things get more severe on both of those accounts."

To read more of the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Grand Forks Herald.
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