Thursday, April 27, 2006

MICHIGAN NEWS: Eastern UP Deer Thrive After Mild Winter

Despite a cold and snowy start to the 2005-06 winter season, the Upper Peninsula had a relatively mild season overall, according to figures compiled by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

In crunching the numbers, Wildlife Biologist Rex Ainslie, speaking from the district headquarters in Newberry, painted a rosy picture.

“It appears,” he said, “there are yearlings out there in pretty good numbers.”

Ainslie observed that, in visiting the local deer yards during the critical period, there was an absence of “fuzzy-faced” fawns - a precursor to winter-kill. Reports continue to show the deer herd appears to be moving back into its summer range in good condition.

Using words such as “encouraged” and “pretty optimistic,” Ainslie said the survival of yearlings also indicates that pregnant does should be carrying healthy fawns.

“We've still got a whole summer season ahead of us,” he said, adding that it certainly would appear as though hunters could expect to see more deer in the fall.

The DNR annually measures winter severity using a mathematical formula derived from snow depth, snow compaction and temperature. When computations approach the 100 mark, wildlife officials expect to see population declines as the deer struggle to survive through the harsh winter conditions. While the 2005-06 season got off to a fast start with harsh conditions in November on into December, a tepid January helped to lessen the overall impact.

Although the official calculations will continue through the month of April, Ainslie indicated that the cumulative total will likely fall somewhere between 78 and 79, making the 2005-06 winter one of the more mild ones experienced in recent years.

Things were much worse 10 years ago, coming out of the 1995-96 winter. A decade ago, a harsh winter saw readings in the 120 range and up into the 130s throughout the Eastern Upper Peninsula. With deer numbers at an all-time high going into the 1995 hunting season, the stage was set for a massive die-off, and when the ice and snow finally receded it was estimated that approximately 40,000 deer perished in our region.

Most deer have already left their yarding areas, returning to their summer ranges; stopping to feed on new growth and rapidly growing plant life along the way. Ainslie indicated the deer herd will not be fully-dispersed until the fawning season sometime in mid-May.

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