Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Maine Deer Population at Risk From Prolonged Winter

There is little doubt this year’s winter has had devastating effects on Northern New England, from a barrage of roof collapses due to the weight of storm after storm of snow to the flooding concerns from all that snow melting. But one impact that has not been publicized much involves deer.

Thousands of white tailed deer throughout Maine are in danger of starving from an unusually high snow pack still blanketing much of the Pine Tree State, according to this entry in Down to Earth, the Portland Press Herald’s environmental blog.

According to the blog, deer do not hibernate like bears and are not equipped to travel easily across deep snow. So, they store as much fat as possible before winter’s arrival and then congregate in a spruce stand to wait out the season. They hope their lack of movement will allow them to conserve enough energy to survive.

But, when winter drags well into spring as is happening this year, the deer simply do not have enough food stored to stay alive. And with no buds forming on trees and plants yet, even if the snow melts soon allowing deer to move freely, they may be unable to find food. The Press Herald estimates 30 percent of northern Maine’s and 12 percent of southern Maine’s herd could die in a bad winter like this one.

Interestingly, these deer, which live in one of the northernmost extremes possible, could potentially benefit from rising temperatures due to climate change. This phenomenon would likely result in longer growing seasons and milder winters, both trends that would benefit the deer population.

Hopefully, this winter does not significantly deplete the deer population as I always enjoy seeing them frolic around in the summer at my family’s place on Lake Winnipesaukee. It’s neat to be working on a path or painting a cabin and suddenly see a deer come down to the water to drink … a great look at nature in action! (The above picture was taken at Lake Winnipesaukee.)

Finally, to track the receding (hopefully) snow pack in the Northeast, check out this link. The image is updated daily.

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