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Sam Cook, Forum Communications Co., Published January 31 2011

Winter takes toll on Minnesota wildlife

White-tailed deer have retreated to the conifers. Mangy wolves near Grand Marais are stealing suet balls put out for birds in residential neighborhoods. Snow is piling up thigh-deep in some parts of the Northland. It’s a real northern Minnesota winter.

The latest Winter Severity Index readings are out from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and they’re climbing fast. Those readings accrue a point for each day with below-zero temperatures and for each day with snow depths of more than 15 inches.

Tom Rusch, DNR wildlife manager at Tower, thinks the winter could have an impact on deer.

“I think they’re in for a long haul. I really do, unless this breaks,” Rusch said. “We’re getting reports already of mortality. Wolves are definitely going to have the advantage in winters like this.”

DNR research biologists have learned that snow is the more significant factor in the WSI matrix, especially when it comes to effects on the deer herd.

Even the wolves may be struggling a bit. Darin Fagerman, a DNR conservation officer at Grand Marais, said in his weekly report that he’s “receiving calls on mangy wolves picking off low-hanging suet balls on bird feeders. Some of the wolves in the worst shape will probably struggle for survival during the frigid temps we are now experiencing.”

In northern Minnesota, deer have changed their patterns to deal with the deep snow, Rusch said.

Hunters are watching and waiting to see how deer will endure the winter, said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association.


Sam Cook is a writer for the Duluth News Tribune