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Tough winter taking toll on wildlife

A wild turkey hunts for food alongside a railroad bed earlier this week. A growing snow pack that has been hardened by a freezing rain and the below-normal temperatures experienced so far are making this a difficult winter for wildlife. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

WILLMAR -- Area wildlife groups and many individuals are contemplating whether to begin feeding wildlife to help see them through a difficult winter.

There's no doubt the growing snowpack, last week's freezing rain, and steady, below-average temperatures are taking a toll on area wildlife populations, according to Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources office at Sibley State Park.

"We're keeping an eye on it,'' said Miller of the conditions.

The Lake Lillian Sportsmen's Club put out a gravity box with corn for those willing to feed pheasant and wildlife. Miller believes others will be following suit too, but noted it is a tough call for many.

Once a feeding site is started, it's critical to keep the site stocked through the course of winter. There's lots of winter ahead, and corn prices are high.

Corn prices are in the $5.80-per-bushel range at most area elevators.

The harsh winter conditions are obvious, but it's often difficult to measure the actual harm on wildlife populations, said Miller. He said the stress on wildlife is apparent by the numbers of pheasants and wild turkeys that can be seen scratching through snow in open fields and along roadways for food. They are out all hours of the day and visible in open areas they would otherwise shun.

It all indicates they are working harder and longer hours at getting the food they need, and putting themselves at greater risk from predators to do it, he noted.

The local DNR wildlife office has not yet fielded many reports of depredation problems yet, but is ready to respond to them, he said. He's had a few calls about deer foraging on round bales of hay. The best tactic in response is to "short stop'' the deer by offering corn and other feed at another location away from the farm.

He's expecting the cold weather will soon lead to an increase in reports of dogs chasing deer and wildlife as the wild creatures venture closer to farms and into towns.

The cold, hard-packed snow poses a double challenge for many game animals. It makes it much more difficult for pheasants and other wildlife to reach their food.

And, the hard-packed snow allows predators like foxes and coyotes to run right across the surface at top speed, instead of plowing through a heavy pile of fluff.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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