NO MAJOR PROBLEMS FOR DEER – THEY’RE WINTERING WELL (February 6/98)

As reported in last week’s column, there was extensive tree damage during the recent ice storm. Someone referred to the storm as “just one of old Mother Nature’s ways of cleaning up the forest” and my observations confirm she definitely did an effective but devastating job.

While tree damage was considerable, most of the comments I heard about the ice storm concerned wildlife. For days after the storm, the woodlands were locked in an icy grip and some hunters felt this would create hardships for deer. These fears were unfounded, however. According to Department of Natural Resources biologist Tony Nette the storm had little effect on deer and there was no need for alarm.

“The ice storm could not be considered a major problem to Nova Scotia’s deer herd as it affected only some areas of the province, and unlike the Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick situation was of relatively short duration,” Mr. Nette said via e-mail.

“I see no major problems so far this winter,” Mr. Nette concluded. In fact, Nette added, evidence garnered through inspection of road kill deer and measurement of antlers submitted by hunters indicates the deer herd “to be in very good condition entering this winter.”

At most, the recent ice storm was likely a minor blip for the wintering deer herd, if even that. In fact, winter to date has been favourable for deer. “While we have had a continuous snow cover since mid-November,” Nette says, “it has not been a particularly cold winter.”

Nette cautioned, however, that winter is far from over. “How long winter lasts, how long the snow cover lasts into spring, will be much of what determines the ‘severity’ (of winter) from a deer’s perspective,” he said.

In an overview of how weather affects the herd, Nette said that generally speaking, deer do well in spring, summer and fall, “during which time they are on an energy gain situation and store energy in the form of fat reserves.”

These fat reserves are used in the crucial winter period when deer are in what biologists call an energy loss situation. And, Nette says, the impact of winter, “measured in the number of cold days, the duration of snow cover and period of deep snow… that determine how well deer survive winter.”

Nette, who is large mammals manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said in a release last fall that the deer population is slowly increasing – the estimated increase last spring based on a pellet survey was 26.7 percent. “This increase… can be credited to the reduced harvest due to the buck law, the effects of three mild winters and a lower number of coyotes,” Nette said.

In conclusion, the weather to date hasn’t been detrimental for deer. And if the current weather trend continues through to spring this will be another favourable winter for the deer population.

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