Harsh win­ter takes toll on wildlife

Losses higher than nor­mal across the western United States; late snow and bit­ter cold hit an­i­mals too hard

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Bob Moen Keith Kohl, Ore­gon Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife The As­so­ci­ated Press

CHEYENNE» Wildlife suf­fered higher-than-nor­mal losses this win­ter in se­vere weather across the Western United States, where the toll in­cluded the deaths of all known fawns in one Wy­oming deer herd and dozens of en­dan­gered bighorn sheep in Cal­i­for­nia.

Wildlife man­agers in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton also re­ported higher losses of an­i­mals in the wake of one of the cold­est and snowiest win­ters in decades. Parts of the Rock­ies saw snow­fall as late as mid-June.

“This year we kind of had all the fac­tors that we don’t want — we had deep snow. We had pe­ri­ods of fairly cold weather, sub­zero, and then we also had some crust­ing on top of that snow,” said Roger Phillips, spokesman for the Idaho Fish and Game Depart­ment.

Wildlife man­agers have been as­sess­ing the dam­age us­ing ra­dio col­lars and sur­veys of herds af­ter a win­ter in which many parts of the West recorded record snow­fall, in­clud­ing places where deer, pronghorn an­te­lope and elk mi­grate each fall to es­cape the harsher moun­tain win­ters. Pro­longed snow cover on win­ter grounds made it dif­fi­cult for wildlife to find food, and spells of bit­ter cold made mat­ters worse for the weak­ened an­i­mals by hard­en­ing the snow.

Mule deer in sev­eral Rocky Moun­tain states and elk in eastern Wash­ing­ton were hit hard. Wy­oming was ex­pect­ing above-norMon­tana mal losses among an­te­lope as well, al­though it didn’t have an ac­cu­rate ac­count­ing yet.

Wy­oming last saw com­pa­ra­ble wildlife deaths over three decades ago, said Bob Lanka, su­per­vi­sor of statewide wildlife and habi­tat man­age­ment pro­gram with the Wy­oming Game and Fish Depart­ment.

“It’s been a long, long time since we ex­pe­ri­enced this kind of loss,” he said.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gist David Lip­son of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice in River­ton blamed the rough win­ter on “un­usu­ally strong rivers of mois­ture” flow­ing into the West from the Pa­cific Ocean, where a weak and un­usu­ally short-lived La Niña oc­curred.

In Cal­i­for­nia, the Sierra Ne­vada bighorn sheep, which is listed as an en­dan­gered species, lost an es­ti­mated 40 to 60 an­i­mals.

“We’re not in­clud­ing any pre­da­tion or nor­mal mor­tal­ity or any other kind of losses; that’s just from the snow, from get­ting trapped up in the snow and not hav­ing food, some of them starv­ing and then some of them di­rectly im­pacted by avalanches,” said Ja­son Hol­ley, su­per­vis­ing wildlife bi­ol­o­gist with the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife.

Elite fire­fight­ers save baby deer from Ari­zona wild­fire

• PRESCOTT VAL­LEY, ARIZ.» Count baby deer among those saved by the elite crews fight­ing a stub­born wild­fire.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice posted pho­tos and a video on Face­book show­ing the Fri­day night res­cue, where Hot­shots rounded up two deer fawns.

The baby an­i­mals were found too close to the spread­ing blaze in the dense Prescott Na­tional For­est and around Prescott, a moun­tain city about 100 miles north of Phoenix.

The fire­fight­ers took the deer to a nearby habi­tat away from the flames so they could be re­united with their mother.

The res­cuers come from an elite Flagstaff crew and are among 1,200 fire­fight­ers at the scene.

The fire started June 24, burn­ing about 43 square miles of land. It was 53 per­cent con­tained as of Sun­day.

wildlife were spared the deadly con­di­tions seen in neigh­bor­ing states, ac­cord­ing to Ken McDon­ald, wildlife divi­sion ad­min­is­tra­tor with the Mon­tana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Depart­ment. Ne­vada saw near av­er­age wildlife losses statewide, while a few iso­lated ar­eas in the north­east part of the state had slightly higher than av­er­age mor­tal­ity, said Tom Don­ham, a Ne­vada Depart­ment of Wildlife bi­ol­o­gist.

Wildlife man­agers are re­spond­ing by re­duc­ing hunt­ing per­mits in the hard-hit ar­eas.

“There will be less hunt­ing op­por­tu­nity this com­ing fall for sure, and the peo­ple that do get a li­cense, whether it’s a gen­eral li­cense or a lim­ited quota tag, I don’t think there’s go­ing to be any doubt they’re go­ing to no­tice less an­i­mals on the land­scape,” Lanka said.

Mike Clark, owner of Greys River Out­fit­ters in western Wy­oming, said the loss of mule deer and an­te­lope tags will be hard on his busi­ness, which in­cludes deer, an­te­lope and elk hunts.

“Luck­ily, we can still work with some elk,” Clark said.

How­ever, out­fit­ters have to be care­ful not to over­hunt elk and over­load their fall hunt­ing camps with too many hun­ters to make up for the de­cline in deer hunt­ing, he said.

“It just takes away from the qual­ity of the hunt if you got too many hun­ters in camp,” Clark said.

Bi­ol­o­gists say the wildlife herds even­tu­ally should re­cover with the help of re­duced hunt­ing and a re­turn to at least nor­mal weather con­di­tions next win­ter. How­ever, fore­cast­ers say it’s too early to pre­dict how next win­ter will play out.

“What hap­pens in the fu­ture de­pends a lot on what kind of win­ter we see next year,” Phillips said. “If we have back-to-back hard win­ters, it could be tough.”

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