Record Big Game Die-offs in Northern Rockies
Winter die-offs are always characteristic of ungulate populations that have exceeded natural carrying capacity, usually because of management efforts to increase numbers for the benefit of hunters. In areas where wolves and other large predators are well established, ungulates seldom perish from winter starvation, primarily because populations are not inflatedbeyond the environment’s capability to provide life requisites. Record die-offs are symptomatic of the mismanagement encouraged by the ecologically impaired?human-centric North American Model of Wildlife conservation.
In addition, wild ungulates inthe affected region have to compete with more than 5 million cows for the forage that is supposed to sustain them through the winter. Consequently, carrying capacity for deer, elk, and moose is compromised and reduced.
Paul C. Paquet
A record number of big-game animals perished this winter from a harsh season of unusually heavy snows and sustained cold in the Northern Rockies.
“Elk, deer and moose — those animals are having a pretty tough time,” said Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Doug Brimeyer. Snow and frigid temperatures in pockets of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming arrived earlier and lingered longer than usual, extending the time that wildlife were forced to forage on low reserves for scarce food, leading more of them to starve.
Based on aerial surveys of big-game herds and signals from radio-collared animals, experts are documenting high mortality among offspring of mule deer, white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope. This comes as big-game animals enter the last stretch of a period from mid-March through early May that is considered critical for survival.
Wildlife managers estimate die-offs in the tens of thousands across thousands of square miles that span prairie in northeastern Montana, the upper Snake River basin in Idaho near Yellowstone National Park and the high country of northwestern Wyoming near the exclusive resort of Jackson.
Brimeyer said the estimated death rate doubled among deer fawns in the Jackson area this year, rising to 60 percent or more from 30 percent.
He said many thousands more elk have crowded the feeding grounds of the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, yet another sign of the toll winter is exacting.
The trend also is pronounced in a wildlife management area near McCall in the mountains of central Idaho, where the estimated mortality rate among mule deer fawns is 90 percent this winter, compared with an average annual rate of 20 percent.
Mike Scott, regional wildlife biologist in McCall for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said how animals fare during the lean months of winter . . . is tied to fattening in fall.
“Deer are mostly living on body fat through the winter. If it goes on too long, they run out of gas,” he said. Fawns born in early June are more resilient than fawns born as late as July since older offspring have more time to add to their body mass.
Pronghorn antelope have been hit hard in eastern and northeastern Montana, where wildlife managers say nothing akin to this season’s die-offs has been seen in 30-plus years. . . .
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