Deer herd could be affected by severe cold
ALPENA – The longer the extreme winter temperatures linger and the more snow that piles up the larger the impact will be on the deer herd in Northeast Michigan. As the winter wears on and food becomes more scarce, the likelihood of deer dying increases, especially younger ones.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Jennifer Kleitch said it is too early to put a number on how the herd is being impacted by the harsh winter the area has endured. She said the DNR will take winter weather data later in the year and use it to help it to determine the loss of life the herd may have experienced.
“We have a winter severity index that calculates the cold temperatures, snow depths and the durations at the end of each winter. With it we try to predict the impact and losses,” Kleitch said. “We have snow on the ground since November and deer can survive a long time in extreme winter conditions, but if this drags out, we could see some significant losses.”
Kleitch said the deer that are most at risk are fawns that were just born last year. She said they have a more difficult navigating through deep snow than full grown deer and can’t reach as high to reach food on low lying branches on trees. She said there was a good harvest of acorns, but it could be difficult for the deer to locate than in the snow. Kleitch said being able to find food is the key to surviving the winter. She said the cold makes them burn calories more quickly and if food runs short, the deer can’t generate the fat they need. She said many deer hunker down during severe weather in places that protection from the elements and nutrition.
“They will tend to seek shelter in cedar or conifers and they can use those as a food source,” Kleitch said. “If it runs out, then they will have to browse away from the shelter and become more at risk.”
Although property owners in Michigan can not feed the deer with food piles, Kleitch said there are steps people can take to assist the deer, well before the snow flies.
“By planting cedar you help them with food and shelter, but you can also plant food plots with produce that is high in calories,” Kleitch said. “If they have the resources to build up their fat reserves throughout the year, the better they will be equipped to survive through the winter.”
Kleich said if a doe does survive a harsh winter there could be implications for it later in the year. She said a doe tends to give birth to fewer sets of twins after a stressful winter than in years where the snow and cold aren’t as severe. She said that also has an impact on the deer population in coming years.
The elk in Northeastern Michigan on the other hand have a lower mortality rate than deer, Kleitch said. She said because the animals are so much larger than deer, they have the benefit for being able to reach food more easily.
“They get through the deep snow easier and they can access food that is higher off the ground,” Kleitch said. “Their fat reserves last longer and we just don’t really see the impact on elk like we do the deer. Like the deer, our concerns are with the calves who are smaller.”