View Full Version : ON: Snow adds to spring challenges for deer

Bob S
03-17-2008, 08:20 PM
ARTICLE (http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/city/story.html?k=62002&id=c5635a25-4617-4a52-8a16-f9911ec101cf)

Disease, predators, dwindling food sources a check on population, experts say

Thulasi Srikanthan, The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, March 17, 2008

It is not just humans who are having a hard time coping with Ottawa's second snowiest winter on record -- deer in the region are facing potentially fatal challenges.

Ottawa naturalist Dan Brunton said particularly at this time of year, deer are vulnerable to bad weather, disease and predators as they cope with dwindling food sources.

"All things being equal, there should be an awful lot of deer dying in next few weeks," said Mr. Brunton, adding that weather-related challenges will typically affect a certain segment of the deer population.

"That is how evolution works. It kills off the old, the young and the dumb."

Kirby Punt, a biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, said a harsh winter can affect pregnant does, who are ready to give birth in June, but not as much as one might think.

"They may not do as well, but it's actually the younger ones who actually have the harder time," said Mr. Punt, who works in the Pembroke area. "Their bodies are designed to grow and not store fat as much in the first years of life. They (young deer) are the ones who have the hardest times."

He said indications are that there will be a higher mortality rate in the unborn fawns -- meaning more fetuses will be spontaneously aborted -- in Renfrew County's deer population this spring, but no signs of that have been seen yet.

Kerry Coleman, area supervisor for the Kemptville Ministry of Natural Resources office, noted that the mortality rate would depend on the weather and the amount of snow on the ground.

"If the snow recedes fairly quickly, they will be fine."

He said a thaw gave the deer a brief respite in February.

"Quite often, if it is a winter where it is dragged out and you get deep snow like we've got right now and it stays longer, like into April, that would make it difficult," Mr. Coleman said.

But while some may bemoan the loss of the wide-eyed ruminants, experts say a reduction in the deer population may not necessarily be a bad thing for certain parts of Ottawa that have a problem with a high deer population -- like Greely.

"In (parts of) Ottawa, you have issues with high deer numbers and no access for hunters to help reduce that population," Mr. Punt said. "This might be a godsend for the city in some places."

A 2007 Ministry of Natural Resources report notes that the deer population has flourished in recent years, leading to significant crop damage and increased deer-vehicle collisions in some areas.

Every year, Ottawa experiences about 1,000 collisions involving deer -- the highest rate in the province. In 2006, Ontario expanded Sunday gun hunting rights to Ottawa to help control the booming deer population, which had been blamed for increased crop and livestock damage.

Mr. Punt said this winter's heavy snow and harsh conditions might be a reality-check for some species, in that "mother nature takes care of itself."

Mr. Brunton agreed. He said there is a plague of deer in the Ottawa Valley and the balance has been thrown off by the high population, which has affected the forests as the animals eat regenerating growth and herbs.

"This is going to select for those strengths within the population designed for a harsher winter," he said. "Anything that re-jigs the system, anything that returns more to a state of balance is what we should be working towards, however messy it might seem. At the end of the day, it's the quality of our natural habitat that is really most important."

But bringing the natural system back into check might take time, Mr. Brunton said.

Can one winter rest the clock? Probably not, but it sure can't hurt."