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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Saturday, January 17, 2004

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Winter may take heavy toll on deer herd

BARAGA — The statewide ban on supplemental deer feeding could combine with a harsh winter to ravage the Keweenaw’s deer population, officials say.
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved the ban in June 2002 amid concerns the practice created artificially large deer herds and conditions favorable to the spread of chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis. The ban took effect in May 2003. To date, no deer from the Upper Peninsula have been found to have either disease.
DNR wildlife biologist Rob Aho said it’s impossible to predict precisely how the feeding ban will affect deer this winter.
“It’s too soon to tell yet,” said Aho, who works in the DNR’s Baraga office. “A lot will depend on how long the winter extends into the spring.”
Thus far, the winter hasn’t been unusually severe. The most recent winter severity index is 35.9 in southwestern Houghton County, 31.2 in Wakefield and 28.7 in Baraga. The index is not typically measured in Keweenaw County. Additional readings will be added to the current figures. A cumulative index for the winter higher than 100 signifies highly unfavorable conditions for deer survival.
Ron Racine, president of the Calumet-Keweenaw Sportsmen’s Club and a retired 37-year DNR employee, said the ban on supplemental feeding would have dire consequences for Keweenaw deer if the winter is long and hard.
“Once that happens, we take away 80 percent,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to rebuild that to a huntable level.”
Last June, the Natural Resources Commission narrowly rejected a proposal that would have reinstated supplemental feeding, although the practice still would have been banned in Upper Peninsula counties bordering Wisconsin.
NRC Chairman Keith Charters, who voted against the measure, said that while the Keweenaw likely will see some deer mortality, it is the natural byproduct of a deer population returning to a naturally sustainable level.
“I can’t help that it gets the weather it gets,” Charters said of the Keweenaw. “It’ll always support deer, but it won’t support the number people want it to have.”
Racine said the fate of the deer herd depends on the amount and type of snow that falls. If the winter is too cold, deer will cluster together around known food sources, increasing competition and creating a greater risk for the spread of disease.
 

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I am going to have to agree with the DNR on that one (ouch that hurts). The number of deer that a particular habitat will support is constricted by the winter carrying range. AS I have stated many times here, if you have to artificially feed deer to get them through the winter, then you no longer have a wild herd. They simply become domestic cattle.

What a joke, that a hard winter could increase disease! There have been hard winters since the last Ice Age. The disease came from domestic cattle, not deer living in age-old yarding conditions!

Dan
 

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I think we're a long way from a winter hard enough, except in some areas of the Keweenaw that, as stated, never have supported large numbers of deer anyway, to see any substantial sort of deer losses...but if you've ever seen a large population of deer squeezed into a relatively small deer yard, he has a point about the deer coming into nose to nose contact and further risking the spread of disease, if the disease is there, which has already been proven in whitetailed deer in northeastern lower Michigan (regardless of the fact that it came from cattle, it's there) more so than they would normally...and in northern lower Michigan, we're suffering an increasing loss of deer yards every year-but the deer numbers are down there, some areas more than others, as well.

Whether you feed or not, I really don't think there's any way to prevent deer from coming into nose to nose contact with each other at some point or another-not unless you separate every single one of them with a 14 ft. fence, and prevent them from coming into any contact with each other at all.
 

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There was an article in the Jan. issue of WNW about whitetail mortality rates in the winter. It concluded that it was not the severity of the winter that killed dear, its the duration. A moderate winter with snow on the ground from late october/early november through april will have more effect than a severe december-february.
 

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The Winter Severity Index is only 1 part of winter mortality. Lou Vermme came up with that index with not very much scientific data to back it, and put it out as a suggestion, to be tweaked. The department went with it, and it has become the "gospel". Some northern biologists put too much faith in it, some, like John Ozoga, want to use it as a piece of the formula, and others want to scrap it alltogether.

For me personally, I side with John(Why not?). In the winter of 2000-2001, all of the deer had left by 12/13, we had a very severe winter, and consequently I had only 1 fawn for 6 does the following year. On the contrary, the next 2 winters the deer did not fully leave until mid-to late Junuary...a full 4-6 weeks later. Because of the shorter length of time in the yards, I had fawn recruitment rates in 2002 and 2003 of 1:1 and 1:1.3, or 8 fawns for 6 does in 2002, and 7 fawns for 7 does in 2003.

The WSI index in itself is not a great indication of winter mortality. For example, very high January and February numbers can yeild a very high overall average, but if Dec. and March are light, so will the mortality. A winter that starts very early, say the first of december, and moves a substantial portion of the deer to their yards by Mid-december, could result in a high mortality if the winter last until April, even if the overall winter is mild.

Basically, duration of winter, coupled with severity, and which months are the most severe, is the what ultimately determines mortality. This year, the deer have 99% left for the yards at this point, and although about 3 weeks earlier than the winters of 2001-2002,2002-2003, it is also about 3 weeks later than 2000-2001. That additional 3 weeks, and a light March, could be the determining factors for just an average mortality rate.

The winter mortality will always be lead by winter carrying capacity, and will in the end, remove the small and weak. It is extremely important, on our nothern winter ranges, including the northern 1/2 of the U.P., to manage for a strong base of adult does. In our northern environments, it is exremely diffucult, and almost impossible, according to John Ozoga, to kill a mature doe. Management strategies that include increased doe permits and encourage adult doe harvest in the northern 1/2 of the U.P. is probably one of the biggest threats towards maintaning a sustainable whitetail herd across the region, regardless of winter severity, regardless of supplemental feeding.
 
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Most of the winterkill that takes place in the UP is the direct result of winter logging operations. The deer are drawn to the cuttings in large numbers and then when the loggers pull out, deep snows often traps them there. It is my opinion, that when the NRC banned feeding completely in the UP, they acted irresponsibly. They should have made provisions for the unnatural situations that logging operations create. A group of hunters from the UP was going to sue the DNR last year to block the feeding ban, but they decided to take another approach instead. They will be looking for concentrations of deer, primarily in logging areas, and they will go into the woods and count the carnage. If the winter is a bad one, that dead deer count could be monumental. After the winterkill is documented, this group plans to sue the DNR for restitution because of unscientific wildlife management practices. The DNR and the courts have already set a precedence value of deer at $1,000 or more in some cases. That benchmark will be used to calculate damages for the suit. Add on punitive damages, and the DNR may be looking at a multi-million dollar lawsuit that lawyers are already frothing at the mouth over for their thick slice of that pie. The group of hunters will likely donate their court winnings to deer causes, but the cost to the DNR could bankrupt the agency. Now is that worth the pig-headed stance that the DNR has taken on this issue? With no CWD or TB in the UP, what's the point?
 

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I feel strongly the efforts of their lawsuits will fail, and they should, simply because the same scientific research that the group argues that the DNR/NRC doesn't use, whether they are correct or not, is the same scientific research that isn't available or pertinent to their own management initiative as well.

The only scientifically proven winter habitat project that is completed right now, is the newly restarted rotational strip cutting of the Shingleton deer yard. This program was discontinued for several years due to squabbling between the district biologist and forester, but is now being started again.

You can't just go into a yard, and throw out some feed, while at the same time, it isn't even needed every year. In fact, we wouldn't have needed it 2 out of the last 3 years. You have to figure how many deer, stay in each yard, and after figuring daily movement wintertime patterns, and optimum number of deer that can be sustained by each pile, both in concentration, and amount of feed. So, you figure out how many piles, in each deer yard, and their optimum distance of seperation, and go ahead and feed. Literally, it is most likely 100's of piles needed throughout the U.P., and to my knowlege, know one has scientifically even started with the numbers yet.

At the same time winter time feeding in the yards does not need to take place, unless the deer are in the yards. Around here, it would have been the end of January the past 2 years, and mid-December in 2000-2001. The deer may make several trips to the yards before finally settling in, and it would be terrible to keep them there with feed when they should be going back with warm weather in November and December. Feeding should probably never take place before February. March and April is too late, but February would be about right. If a deer is having a hard time right now, it should die anyways.

It needs to be completed very scientifically, after hunting season, and once you start, you can't stop because although you deer will most likely still not exceed summer carrying capacity, they will be greatly over winter carrying capacity for even the average winter.

The wintertime logging will always take place, and that's just the way it is. Much of the U.P. can only be logged in the dead of winter due to water levels....you can only log after the ground is frozen. In my experience the deer still go to the yards, as they have done 1 mile from my house this winter. The deer did stay around quite a bit, but have since moved on with the heavy recent snows, leaving 100's of pounds of browse laying in the woods.

Again, squashing adult doe harvest in the northern 1/2 of the U.P. greatly needs to take place, no matter what is decided with the winter feeding efforts.
 

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I would think that by using that groups own rational then they should sue themselves for failing to remove enough deer through the legal purchase of antlerless licenses over numerous years of not reducing the herd. That would indicate the exact stance that the DNR takes as there are too many deer and the mortality rate has just proved what the DNR has been telling this group and other hunters all along. But this group shows that it wants to supplementally feed the deer to sustain a herd that the habitat can't support. Lets face it, the private land issue up in the UP is not even close to what the private land issue is in southern Michigan, so they have the access to take the deer.

I seriously doubt that lawsuit will ever happen and it's more coffee table talk than anything. We will see. :rolleyes:
 
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Another thing that the DNR/NRC did the year before was to require people that were feeding deer in the UP to register with the DNR. This was actually a sneaky move in disguise to get a list of feeding sites. I'd bet that the DNR will check out sites on their list this winter. This was perceived by most Yoopers like the government wanting firearm owners to register their guns though and the feeding registration was small. You all know what happened in England when their government mandated gun registration; confiscation using those registration lists became reality. Most Yoopers though were too savvy to cooperate with the DNR, and the number of people who registered their feeding operations was miniscule compared to the actual number of feeding sites that were operated. In my opinion, one of the main reasons that the feeding ban was enacted in the first place was because of that low cooperation. One of the commissioners was quoted as saying; "Those Yoopers that thumbed their noses at the DNR by not registering their feeding activities got what they deserved." You can bet that feeding activities have only been marginally affected by the DNR ban. You can also bet that Yoopers will perform covert feeding operations in mass this year should conditions warrant it. It will be nearly impossible to enforce such a law because they would have to catch the persons actually in the act of feeding; especially on public ground. If the DNR gets overzealous and starts conducting warrantless searches on private lands looking for feeding activity, this will only start a whole new era of DNR hatred in the UP. There are many lawyers out there that would love to test the scope of past court rulings on warntless property searches especially when the offense being investigated is just a minor misdemeanor infraction. The courts gave law enforcement some latitude in the war on drugs, but what do you think our current, conservative majority in the Supreme Court would say about COs searching for deer feed without a warrant? Something to think about.

I personally don't believe in wide scale supplemental feeding of deer because it tends to allow less fit animals to survive and thus pass on their inferior genes. However, when man comes along and through logging operations, creates deadly situations for the deer, then and only then, should we step in to correct the situation with supplemental feeding.
 

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TS,

That logging threat does not happen often. I personally haven't seen it yet, but know it did happen in the Rock area when a substantial portion of deer yard was cut, and deer just stood and died, with no where to go. It souned awful, but again, as you implied that was an emergancy situation that could have been helped.

Our U.P. deer herd is scattered more now during the winter time than ever before. Much of this has to do with residents feeding large portions of deer that never go to the deer yard. When those folks move, and the new owners do no want the financial burden(I know of 3 residents that spend $3000+ each), the deer die. The supplemental feeding has not stopped at all, or even slowed down much, but that's not a good thing. Right now, the deer should be in the yards, where thermal cover and escape trails are available, and they are not left to standing through snowstorms in open hardwoods waiting for a cup of corn the next day.

I know of one resident that puts out 100 cups of corn a day.... 1 for each deer he feeds behind his house in the open hardwoods. You can go to his house and look at all the deer while standing in the back yard towards the end of winter. I believe the deer stay close to the house knowing the predators will stay away from the house, although that resident has watched deer be killed in broad daylight, by coyotes.
 
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Logging activities have been going gangbusters in my neck of the UP in recent years. With timber fetching record prices this year, there will be a bunch of cutting done this winter. I'm certainly not against logging as it typically creates better deer/bird habitat in the future than does old growth. The trouble occurs when heavy snows come after the loggers pull out. My camp is in the Rock area and NJ that incident you referred to was about five miles from my camp. Mead went in and clear-cut a huge tract of land very quickly and then the winter of 2000/2001 reared it's ugly head after they pulled out. There were thousands of deer in that cutting and the deer died in mass. Mind you, that area only had about 10 deer per square mile before that winter, so the deer had come from many miles around, especially to the north to meet their fate. I used to deer hunt in that area as it contains lots of CFR and state land. After 2000/2001 though, it was nearly devoid of deer and their numbers have remained depressed since then. I haven't deer hunted there since. I've seen the same thing happen all over our area in the past couple years, but thankfully, the winters were mild. It makes me shake my head when people who don't have a clue about UP deer dynamics like to blame hunters for not shooting enough does when deer die from winterkill when in many of these areas, there are few deer to begin with. One of the NRC commissioners (guess who) said, "I've never seen a deer in the UP ever die of starvation and I'm up there all the time." The person (guess who) that was testifying at the meeting told him that he had obviously never gotten his fat ass off his ATV then because starvation is common in the UP. That person was promptly escorted out of the meeting by a CO and he eventually
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
It's funny, youse guys in the central UP talk about the last two mild winters. It may have mild where you are at but the snow pile along the road to camp was still several feet above the roof of my full sized 4x4 pick up the first week of April.

The Pine River yard still had deer leaving in May. The winters of '01-'02 & '02-'03 were on par with the bad ones in the mid 90s as far as duration went. I had the same snow & ice on the ground from mid November till late May. Plus the deer returned from the yards real late compared to a normal year.

It seems everyone has the fix for their little piece of heaven but it does not take into account the vast diversity of Michigan. What may work for the central UP won't for other areas and vica versa. The same can be said for the diversity of the lower.

USDA - National Agricultural Statistics Service has historical data but if you want to see how different Michigan's growing season is visit the link provided below starting in April and watch your area compared to the rest of the state.

http://www.nass.usda.gov/weather/cpcurr/mi-crop-weather
 

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Luv2,

I'm not going to debate the snow dynamics with you, but...

There is one extremely easy way to see how your winter was the year before...and it isn't listening to the locals. I've found the locals tend to greatly exagerate snow levels as a sense of pride. For example, Munising averages 185", but locals like to quote 300", which is the snow total average for VanMeer, which is 15 miles away to the NE, but still in Alger County. Likewise, the Kingston Plains is 15 miles from VanMeer, and no one measures, but they get much more, maybe even 400", but again, ask a Munising resident, and they'll say we get 300"+. It's a pride thing. But again, enough on the snow....

The one very easy way to determine winter severity is by the number of fawns per doe going into mid-summer. After a bad winter you will have less than 1 fawn per 4 adult does(not even counting yearlings because a fawn is rarely bred). I personally have seen 1 fawn per 6 does, but the 1 per 4 mirrors some of John Ozogas personal observations and insight after a rough winter. Basically, if you have around 1 fawn per doe, you had an average winter. Twins are also a dead-give away to an average winter, regardless of fawn:doe ratios.

At the same time, in my area, the deer need around 10-12" of snow on the level to start clearing out completely. So even with several inches on the ground for weeks, most deer have not left. In fact, we did have snow on the ground last year from November, but I was clearing land in late December and the deer didn't leave until the end of Junuary because the total depth was not that great. I also had 1 fawn per 1 doe last year. What were your fawn numbers the past couple years? That is really the only true measure to winter severity, and use to be about the primary calculation used to figure antlerless harvest...not any more though, unfortunately the WSI is relied on way too much nowdays-it's easy.

Bottom line, if you have 1 fawn per 1 doe, or probably even .75 fawn per doe, you had a light/average winter. That's the about only way to tell how severe your winter was the year before. Also, roughly 50% of your yearlings may die in a severe winter as well.
 

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I had to wade through someone's back yard to snap some photos 2 weeks ago in Trenary, another 1/4 mile north of Trout Lake Rd. by M-67, and another just south of Traunik, and the snow depth was about 1'. Since then we've recieved lots of lake effect, which probably didn't hit your way much, but we've also had around a foot of regular snow. I'd bet you are around 15-18" on the level and way too much to drive in without plowing.
 
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