Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

How Whitetail Deer Survive Winter

Deer Biology, Bad Legislation, Sustainable Forestry

My eighty-nine readers are probably scratching their heads in wonderment that a blogger so intent upon killing deer during the hunting season is actually fretting over their survival during the winter.

It's a conundrum for sure.  A complicated one.

A tool known as the Winter Severity Index (WSI) was created many years ago to measure the impact of winter conditions on whitetail deer survival.  The WSI combines the number of days the temperature is 0 degrees (or below) Fahrenheit along with the number of days with 18 or more inches of snow on the ground.  Tally them up and if your answer is 50 or less you have a mild winter.  50-79 moderate, 80 to 99 is severe and 100 or higher is very severe.  It's a bit more complicated than that but I think you get the picture.

Persistently lower temperatures this winter and higher snow accumulations have conspired to create conditions downright hostile to the local deer herd in some northern Wisconsin locales.  As a consequence deer are going to die.  They'll die of starvation or in a weakened condition - of predation.  It's not going to be pretty and there'll be plenty of finger-pointing.  Wolves are going to get their share of the blame.  Coyotes too.  But they're just doing what predators do - culling the young, the weak and the lame.  Circle of life.  In the end that big faceless bureaucracy of the DNR will be the object of the bulk of the outrage that will be sure to follow.  What will be forgotten is that under the Walker administration it is the legislature that dictates deer management nowadays.  The DNR is simply the instrument that implements what is legislated policy.  In its infinite wisdom the legislature has determined that it is best to manage for higher deer populations.  

Bottom line - the politics behind a larger deer herd is the legislature and the governor believe that hunters grumbling and grousing about not seeing deer doesn't garner votes.  Instead of a chicken in every pot  - a deer on every meat pole.

The reality check is that even more deer than normal will die because the population will have grown beyond the carrying capacity of the land they occupy. 

If you promise not to tell I'll let you in on a little secret.  This is what happens when individuals with a time horizon of only an election cycle replace science in the management of big game.  Maybe all that complicated biology makes their heads hurt.

I digress.

Another prediction.  This is an easy one.  If you pay attention to the message boards and outdoor press there will be a demand for supplemental feeding of the deer herd this winter.

Hey, look Gas - whatsa matter with dumping corn and hay in the woods so the deer won't starve?  You're beginning to sound like one of those barstool biologists yourself.  Are you nuts?

Gentle reader I feel your concern.  Like I said from the outset I've been fretting about deer survival this winter.  The problem with the corn and hay is that as well-intentioned an idea that it is - whitetail deer were not engineered by their Creator to be fed cattle food.  That's because - well - they're not barnyard animals.  Cattle fodder has a high probability of killing them.  Deer are uniquely qualified to survive winter conditions by means of browsing trees and shrubs.  And as long as their numbers do not exceed the capacity of their habitat to supply them with healthy and nourishing browse they do just fine. The problem is that certain special interest groups have lobbied to discourage logging in the northern part of Wisconsin.  Translation:  no forest regeneration.  And none of the healthy browse that comes with it.  Combine this with legislators that want a deer behind every tree, a worsening WSI and you have dead and dying deer on your hands.

It could be a real mess.  Ugh!

If someone wants to help out the northern deer herd they should support sustainable forestry practices and the logging that comes with it.  Short of that, fire-up a chainsaw and drop some cedars or maples so the deer have access to woody vegetation they cannot reach.

In the mean time I've been monitoring the deer that live and traverse our property up north and they seem to be doing OK.  So far.  Time will tell as the winter progresses and we get into spring.  At the present the deer are looking better than our cedars and oaks...

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