Bulldozers being brought in to help break trails for deer

    The Recorder

    MANITOULIN—Bulldozers and trucks are going to be brought into play to help break trails for deer due to the extraordinary snow and ice conditions making it difficult for deer to feed this winter.

    “By next week people on Manitoulin can expect to see bulldozers on hand to break trails open for deer,” stated Bob Florean, a director on the Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association board which coordinates the Deer Save program on Manitoulin. “Manitoulin Streams has a list of landowner properties where permission has been granted for work to be carried out to break trails and for some browse cutting to take place.”

    Ian Anderson, a former Conservation Officer (CO) with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNRF), trapper and long time resident of Manitoulin Island says the current weather conditions for deer on Manitoulin Island are the worst he has ever seen. “It’s official—these are the worst conditions I’ve seen for deer in my 46 years living on Manitoulin Island,” he told the Recorder after a Deer Save meeting last week in which the group agreed that more help needs to be provided for deer this winter. “The only saving grace is that the winter came in mid-to late January.”

    “The conditions are really serious in some places with over 40 inches of snow on the ground,” said Mr. Anderson. He said there is no area on Manitoulin or the North Shore where there is less than 30 inches of snow on the ground (in places where deer would normally feed). “And this is really compounded by the freezing rain, and deer can’t travel on top of the icy crust and snow.”

    Mr. Florean took part in the Deer Save meeting last week. “I just finished a conference call with the MNRF, Ian Anderson, Rob Seifried, Brian Parker, John Seabrook, Paul Methner and North Shore representatives Leland Murphy, Dan Smith, Rolly Frappier, Keith Munro (of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters) and Manitoulin Streams. We talked about the current situation. Ian (Anderson) said it’s the worst he’s ever seen deer on the Island.”

    “There is a real need to get the word out that trails need to be broken for deer to access food sources,” said Mr. Florean. He explained there is 300,000 acres of deer hunting area on Manitoulin, with over 80 percent of these lands being owned by landowners off-Island.

    “Efforts will be focused on the core winter deer yards on Manitoulin and we are contacting local contractors about using bulldozers to break trails on lands that Manitoulin Streams has permission to access through its Deer Save program,” said Mr. Florean. “If anyone is interested in helping out they can contact Sue Meert (Deer Save coordinator at 705-859-1653 or suemeert@hotmail.com).”
    “And members of the public can help by breaking trails using snowmobiles or whatever equipment they have that allows to get around in the snow and ice,” said Mr. Florean. 

    Mr. Florean pointed out the traditional core deer wintering yards on Manitoulin include the Walkhouse Road, Bidwell station, Strawberry Island, the Allan yard between Gore Bay and Billings, Michael’s Bay yard between South Baymouth and Providence Bay and Dominion Bay.

    Adriana Pacitto, assistant regional outreach specialist with the MNRF, told the Recorder, “snow depths at the Sandfield and Walkhouse snow stations did not exceed 20 centimetres until early January. However, things changed quickly in mid-January through mid-February; current conditions are extreme with snow depth close to or above 100 centimetres. The persistent cold temperatures and ice crust part way down in the snow pack have helped to make this a very hard winter for deer. It’s reasonable to anticipate some late winter mortality, primarily fawns and some bucks. There may also be impacts to the number of fawns born in 2019. How significant these impacts may be will depend largely on how things play out over the next couple of months.”

    The ministry recommends that interested landowners and volunteers (who have landowner permission) get out to some of the core yarding areas and break trails between cover and natural food sources using snowmobiles and snowshoes. “Given current conditions, heavier equipment may be required in some areas. Focus on areas where there are signs of beer as the animals will be confined to these areas until conditions change.”

    “In addition to breaking a network of trails, people can also cut cedar, hemlock, and hardwood browse along these trails as natural sources of food for deer,” said Ms. Pacitto. “Focus on browse that would otherwise be out of reach. Do not cut whole cedar or hemlock trees down in the yarding area as these conifers provide critical shelter from snow and wind. It is better to prune higher branches that would otherwise be out of reach for deer leaving the trees themselves intact for future years. Deer also do well on hardwood browse. Preferred hardwood species include dogwood, hazel, yellow birch and various maple species.” 

    “The best thing for members of the public to do is break trails and cedar brouse for the deer near the trails,” said Mr. Florean. “And for now they should focus on the branches higher on the trees; and don’t knock trees down.”

    Mr. Florean said Ms. Meert is in discussion with contractors on the Island to carry out breaking trails, and noted that funds are being accessed from the account started in 2014-2015 for the Deer Save program. As well, if anyone would like to donate funds they should contact with Ms. Meert.

    “The last time there was a Deer Save program on the Island, over 500 kilometres of trails were opened by bulldozers, and we will also be contacting the Manitoulin Snowdusters (Snowmobile Club) about having members help out as well,” continued Mr. Florean. He explained that Keith Munro of the OFAH is talking to his communications people at OFAH and asking for financial support as well. 

    “During the last week the deer are not venturing off the trails at all,” said Mr. Anderson. “There are more deer compacted in areas, and not necessarily the traditional deer yards, than I’ve ever seen before.”
    Mr. Anderson noted that predators have a great advantage over deer right now as they can travel on top of the snow and ice. “The conditions are even more severe on the North Shore for deer,” he said. “By far the best way to help the deer right now (on Manitoulin) is to break trails with concentrations of deer. Where people can break trails and cut down brouse higher up in trees the better. But don’t knock down or kill trees and leave the lower branches of trees for later when deer can take advantage of this.”
    Mr. Munro said the OFAH has a Deer Save Fund that can be accessed when there are real concerns in an area, as is the present case for Manitoulin. He said he helped the local group apply for funding under this program. “We know people on the Island are very motivated to help the deer.”

    Mr. Anderson noted, “we are faced with the reality that we will lose some deer this winter unless there is a huge break in the weather in the next few weeks. We need as much help as possible with people breaking trails for deer to access deer sources.”