The Dryden Observer

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MNR: tough winter could help balance deer population

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
The combination of a deep snowpack and prolonged cold temperatures this winter could help control the area’s deer population, says the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
This past week, the MNR issued a press release reminding residents to resist the impulse to feed the animals, many of whom have crowded into municipal boundaries in recent years.
Area ‘A’ Biologist Dorothy Brunner says she believes it will indeed be a difficult winter for deer with snow limiting movement and opportunities to forage on ground vegetation.
She says a natural event such as this could be helpful to MNR wildlife management goals, which are focused on supporting moose numbers — on the decline over the past five to 10 years.
“Due to a lack of severe winters, the deer population had continued to increase until about two years ago,” said Brunner. “MNR attempts to achieve a sustainable population over the long term by monitoring the response of the population to both hunting and natural events.  We are then able to adjust hunting allocations to maintain a healthy, viable population.  Severe winters do affect the populations by weeding out the weaker animals.  This also leaves you with an overall healthier population.”
Brunner says while many people believe they are helping an animal by feeding them, she says human kindness can complicate all sorts of natural processes and that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.
Feeding deer can cause them to concentrate in high densities (in town) increasing the chance for disease transmission and vehicle collisions. Brunner adds it can change an animal’s behaviour and how they regulate their metabolic rate.
“Deer typically do not waste energy on dominance during the winter; this is not the case around feeders,” said Brunner. “Deer that spend energy on sparring for dominance maintain a high metabolic rate.  Deer normally respond to winter by lowering their metabolic rate, which reduces their energy demands, this is a key component to their survival in the winter.  By feeding the deer’s the reverse occurs and offsets the advantages of feeding by increasing their energy demands.”
However, Brunner cautions that those who have already begun feeding deer should not stop.
“In most winters deer are better off coping with winter conditions in the way that nature intended.  However if you have already started feeding deer, don’t stop, because you have got a number of deer depending on that food source.  This year there has been quite a lot of snow and deer have already moved into their wintering areas.  So if the deer have already become accustomed to being fed, it is probably too late to stop now without stressing them or causing them damage. “
By Chris Marchand

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