Winter tough on local deer population

ESCANABA — The Upper Peninsula has been hit by heavy snowfall and extremely low temperatures this winter. According to Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Escanaba Customer Service Center Wildlife Biologist Karen Sexton, these factors have made winter challenging for the local deer population.

“We expect this to be a difficult winter for deer,” Sexton said.

The deep snow seen locally has made it hard for deer to move around and find food.

“We know snow depth to be most difficult on deer when it’s over 12 inches,” Sexton said. In most of the U.P., snow has been more than 12 inches deep for over 50 days.

The area’s snow depths have been significantly higher than average this year.

“(It’s) to the point that they’re actually double average,” Sexton said. This was the case for the U.P. about two weeks ago, based on a comparison of the average snow depth across the peninsula for the winter of 2018-19 and the average snow depth for the area between the winters of 2003-04 and 2017-18.

Deer have been seeking out places with food and shelter in the U.P., Sexton said.

“We’re finding deer hanging out in areas where we would expect them to be hanging out right now,” she said.

This is especially true of forested areas with significant cedar and hemlock populations.

“Those tree species … can both serve as (a) food source and are important for intercepting snow,” Sexton said.

Along with deep snow, bitterly cold temperatures have been seen throughout the winter of 2018-19.

“Although extreme temperatures are difficult for deer, that’s not nearly as critical as a piece of the winter conditions as the snow depth is,” Sexton said.

Typically, supplemental deer feeding is only allowed in the southern U.P. if counties in this region meet a total accumulated snow threshold by Jan. 15. While the area did not meet the threshold in time this winter, the DNR changed its plans as a result of the severe weather seen recently.

“They made the decision to permit supplemental deer feeding in the southern U.P. counties,” Sexton said. People in this area can get a supplemental deer feeding permit application through their local DNR office.

However, Sexton said supplemental deer feeding will not be allowed in the U.P.’s core and expanded chronic wasting disease surveillance areas.

According to Sexton, additional information on the impact winter weather has had on the local deer population will be made available later in the year.

“More of the story will … unfold as the snow melts and as we wait for green-up to occur,” she said.

As part of this, U.P.-based staff members of the DNR’s wildlife division will once again be involved with fawn-to-adult spring surveys after snow melts in the area.

“That’ll inform us how well fawns survived the winter, and then generally what our deer numbers look like compared to the previous spring deer survey,” Sexton said.