A Long Winter for Wildlife in West Virginia


The recent snowfall has West Virginia‘s wildlife facing difficult days ahead.  A difficult winter was already going to be problematic for animals with mast in such short supply.  The 2009 Mast Report from the DNR found the lowest level of mast among all species in the 40-year history of the report.    Add a massive snow pack, the chances of winter mortality jump exponentially.

"You know deer are pretty tough critters, they have pretty good defense systems in terms of building up fast reserves and winter coats that do an extremely good job of insulating themselves from cold weather,"  said DNR Game Management Supervisor Gary Foster. "But yeah, I would anticipate we’ll have some winter mortality." 

Foster and his team of DNR biologist do their best to monitor off season starvation as best they can, but admittedly it’s a hit and miss process.    The best data on the subject comes from people calling the office and letting them know of dead deer.    That’s certainly no scientific look at anything.  Foster says next year’s harvest rate may be a better indicator.

"Typically when we have some mortality, sometimes you just kind of see it show up in the harvest in the next year or so where you’ll have a dip," said Foster.  "But one thing about whitetail deer, they are very resilient and it’s amazing how they bounce back."

Typically, one would expect the mortality rates to be highest in the West Virginia mountain counties.  Those areas will have the longest lasting snow pack and the least chance for people to notice them dying–since there are fewer people in those remote locations.  However, this year–that might be flipped a bit.

"Those higher elevations did have some pretty decent red oak mast and grape crop.  That’s the one place around the state where we had fairly decent food on the ground," Foster said. "Hopefully before this snow hit deer were foraging around on the ground and building up those fat reserves to bring them through the winter."

He says for the western counties, the outlook isn’t nearly as optimistic since those counties have the highest number of deer and the biggest failure of mast.  Add to that the heavy show the lowlands have received this winter and it could be a big die off for an over abundant deer population.

Other critters are probably going to be okay according to Foster.  The bear population largely just gave up and went into hibernation early.  Foster says turkeys have an internal mechanism that tells them to simply stay put and not burn energy looking for food on those coldest of days.    As for raccoons, squirrels, and other small game, Foster anticipates they’ll simply slow their metabolism and come through the winter in decent shape–but off season reproduction will likely be lower than usual because of the lack of food.


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