Winter is far from over for U.P. deer

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
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Wildlife biologists are concerned that extended winter conditions will hurt the deer population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

So far this winter, 13.5 percent of white-tail deer in the Upper Peninsula have died, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. That compares to 15 percent a year ago.

But winter is far from over in the Upper Peninsula. Some parts of the U.P. are expected to get up to two feet of snow this weekend and stay on a winter storm watch throughout next week.

“A month ago, we were optimistic about the deer herd, with spring on the horizon and the winter we’d had to that point,” Terry Minzey, DNR Upper Peninsula regional wildlife supervisor, said in a news release. “Now, I’m quite concerned with what we might end up with because of this protracted winter weather.”

By this time a year ago, 95 percent of U.P. deer had dispersed from their wintering complexes. This year, they are still in hiding due to winter conditions.

“With relatively no green vegetation available, deer are suffering a negative energy balance at the same time they are burning energy used for developing fetuses or antler development,” Minzey said. “Deer expend five times more energy to move through snow than they expend to keep warm.”

Brad Johnson, a DNR wildlife technician at Baraga, said DNR staffers are receiving calls of deer looking stressed, skinny and sick at feeding sites. Other technicians like Colter Lubben in Delta and Menominee counties said deer are in good condition, but fawns are suffering.

“I was out working late last night running on sick/injured deer and I made it a point to look at fields of deer and large feeding sites. I looked closely at the fawns and I can say that out of the 150 plus fawns I observed I didn’t see a single fuzzy face or any that I could see ribs or hip bones,” Lubben said in the news release.

DNR officials said the Upper Peninsula deer herd had been rebounding over the past year, after three consecutive hard winters.

Ashley Autenrieth, DNR deer program biologist, said in some areas of the Lower Peninsula, there are too many deer.

“In urban areas, like metro Detroit, there were lower winter impacts this year and they aren’t being hunted,” Autenrieth said. “The farther south you go in Michigan, the higher deer population there is and areas with heavy agricultural areas.”

She said social acceptance of deer in the community also affects the population.

“It depends on the perspective, some people don’t want deer in their yard and some don’t want to hunt them,” she said. “More deer means more deer-human interactions and incidents. We don’t want deer habituated to humans.”

This week, the DNR awarded $100,000 for deer habitat improvement to 11 entities for projects in the Upper Peninsula. Officials said the grants will produce improve 850 acres in Marquette, Alger, Luce, Iron, Baraga, Ontonagon, Gogebic, Schoolcraft and Mackinac counties.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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