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Doug Leier, Published January 06 2008

Report any wildlife harassment

Survival during a typical Midwest winter is more like rolling with the punches than simply fighting the elements. Give yourself credit for acclimating and changing with the weather.

Generally speaking, in North Dakota we always have – like it or not – a time to fish through the ice. In some years good ice doesn’t form until January and may deteriorate in early March, but hard-water anglers will take whatever the winter provides.

This winter, we had ice fishing opportunities beginning in late November, which doesn’t happen on a regular basis.

The same can be said for skiing or snowmobiling. Some winters have more snow than others. When it does come, a lot of folks are out enjoying the countryside on their machines or skis.

At the same time, the more snow, the more difficult the winter for wildlife. Any winter will stress animals to a degree, and animals try to cope with it. If they can’t, they die. Like it or not, it’s a pretty basic wildlife equation.

Some animals such as pheasants will die from exposure. Others, such as late-born deer, may not be able to secure or compete with stronger deer for limited food and will die from starvation. In many circumstances, it’s the smaller or weaker animals that will succumb to winter weather. It’s nature’s circle of life.

Wild animals need good habitat to survive winter. What animals don’t need is any sort of additional stress created by humans. The good news is that our outdoors has plenty of room for both human recreation and wildlife.

Most people who ski or ride snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles for recreation do everything possible to steer clear of sloughs and shelterbelts that give refuge to wildlife.

Unfortunately, these law-abiding folks are sometimes cast under the same dark shadow as illegal operators who choose to purposely run down fox, coyotes or deer or flush already stressed critters trying to stay out of the elements.

People who harass animals with motorized vehicles are about the worst possible violator. Fortunately it doesn’t happen very often. In my few years as a game warden I can only remember a couple times when I got tips about such activity.

My challenge to all venturing outdoors the next few months is to give the wild critters some space, even as winter wears on. A late March snowstorm can be just as stressful to animals as an early storm, as they’ve already expounded energy and fat reserves to survive that far.

If you do see someone intentionally chasing down wildlife with a snow machine, ATV or other motor vehicle, don’t turn the other way. Chances are they’ve done it before and will do it again. Report it to local law enforcement or a game warden immediately.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com Report any wildlife harassment Doug Leier 20080106