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Friday, January 30, 2009

Winter may be hard on wildlife

It could be worse.

People grumbling about shoveling the ever-constant flow of snow and those just plain tired of winter are much better off than are wildlife.

With near record snow falls for January and combined with crusting in a lot of places, white-tail deer and wild turkeys are having a tough go of it.

The hardest hit location for deer is where they are most heavily concentrated: Like at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Here, state wildlife biologists say, deer populations are so dense that even in the best of time there is some mortality. Given that at least 40 inches of snow has fallen this month over the area then deer mortality is all but assured there.

And places like Lake Metroparks' Chagrin River Park also could see problems, though not likely mortality.

Instead, does are more likely to abort fetuses or drop under-weight fawns in the spring along with producing less-than nutritious milk, says Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist Mike Tonkovich.

And deer also use up considerable amounts of energy as they plow through snow as high as their chest.

Avoiding predators like coyotes becomes much more difficult, too.

Combine those points with forage that is less than ideal and the winter could prove fatal, especially if it lingers much longer, Tonkovich says.

"It's been a rough winter but I don't know if we've reached a critical point yet. Deer can weather a hard winter if they're in good condition," Tonkovich says.

Wild turkeys are a little better off in that they can stay huddled in trees and can go without food for a few days.

And these birds also can subsist on marginal tree buds for survival, though here too, body weights can be lower going into the spring breeding season.

"But it's tough to make a blanket statement," Tonkovich says.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn


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