Island deer are starting to succumb to extreme winter weather conditions

Photo by John Savage

MANITOULIN—Signs are appearing of how hard this extreme winter has been on deer.

Ian Anderson, a member of the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council (MASC), told the Recorder last week, “I have seen small fawns that are showing real signs of starvation and malnutrition. This occurs when their face and head really stands out (bestowing fuzzy faces). It is very, very early for this to take place. You don’t normally see this until late March or early April.”

“One fawn close to my home died two days ago,” said Mr. Anderson last Thursday. “I have a neighbour who had been cutting browse and left feed, but it died, and I found another one yesterday—a very small deer that died. I didn’t expect to see this type of thing until late March or early April, and this is as early as I’ve ever seen deer dying.”

“And this is not the worst winter I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen years where we’ve had as much snow as we do now,” Mr. Anderson continued. “But the extreme cold day after day has been quite unusual. It is not relenting. And the long range forecast is not good. This is a bad winter and we will lose some deer, that is to be expected.”

“Deep snow, hard crusts and frigid temperatures could result in significant mortality of adult deer and the loss of this spring’s fawn crop,” OFAH senior wildlife biologist Mark Ryckman said in a press release. The MNR reports that most deer entered this winter in really good shape thanks to an abundance of natural foods in 2013, however it remains likely that this year’s harsh winter conditions will still have an impact on many of central and Northern Ontario’s deer herds.

In 1995, the OFAH established the Deer Save Fund to help members, clubs and partners deliver emergency winter deer conservation activities, such as browse cutting, trail breaking and emergency feeding. Mild winters have limited the need for emergency winter deer conservation in recent years, but the Deer Save Fund has been called upon when needed to provide targeted funding to aid struggling herds.

“We may not be in an emergency situation yet, but it is looking more and more likely that intervention will be required somewhere in the province,” said Mr. Ryckman. “The OFAH is initiating discussions with MNR regional biologists to determine areas of the province that would benefit most from winter conservation efforts. In the meantime, concerned conservationists can help deer by packing down trails in areas frequented by deer, and by cutting preferred browse species (maples, birch, dogwood, sumac, hemlock, cedar, etc.)”

“Conservationists can also help by contributing to the OFAH Deer Save Fund so we are ready to provide help when and where it is needed most,” added Mr. Ryckman.

Bob Florean, of MASC, said, “deer do not do well when snow depths exceed 30 centimetres for prolonged periods of time. We are now in a very critical situation, deer-wise locally with nearly 90 days into severe winter deer conditions and snow depths are averaging between 30-70 centimetres on the Island with snow depths in the 70 plus centimetre range along the North Shore deer yards. At 90 plus days we can expect to start losing many of the deer in our most snow impacted areas.”

Mr. Florean pointed out a funding application has been made to the OFAH Deer Save program. In the application it is stated in part, “our deer save OFAH-affiliated partner groups are out there packing trails and cutting browse for deer in yards with the somewhat limited resources that we now have. But we could use more help, especially with help funding heavy equipment such as skidders, dozers and snow groomers to pack trails through deer yards in which we have permission to do so—this so deer can move around less impeded and save their now severely diminished energy reserves,” wrote Mr. Florean. “We have been and are now in a critical emergency winter deer situation and we could use some of the noted OFAH Deer Save assistance that you mention.”

At a meeting last week, the Gore Bay Fish and Game Club pledged support of $1,000 toward the local deer save program.

“It’s a continuing process and we are urging support from people in breaking trails for deer to access food sources and with what is happening with the MNR, we are asking for people to help out and break trails, and making donations is important,” said Sue Meert, deer save coordinator with MASC. “The deer are really struggling.”

“I think this year is an eye opener in terms of next year as well. If we have another bad winter next year, it could be devastating to the deer. We need to set the process for obtaining funding and getting communities involved now, for this year and next year,” said Ms. Meert.

“I’m thinking there should be feeding taking place at this point,” said Ms. Meert. However, she added, proper education of members of the public is critical in feeding deer.

Ms. Meert can be contacted through email at manitoulindeersave@gmail.com or by phone at 705-859-1187. Islanders are also encouraged to check out the 15 minute video on proper deer feeding techniques on the MASC website, www.manitoulinsteward.org, and click on the red button on the right titled ‘How to Save Deer Video.’

 Tom Sasvari