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Crazy weather impacts wildlife: animals big and small suffered from the bad weather of 2011.

NO QUESTION, the weather we had in 2011 was a bit crazy. January and February saw the Upper Plains states hit with some of the biggest snows in history. Northeastern Montana really got hammered as the headwaters of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers had snowfalls 800 percent above normal. There was snow cover for 163 straight days in much of eastern Montana.

Other areas of Montana saw 108 inches of snow. Deer and antelope gathered on train tracks because it was the only escape from deep snows and hundreds were hit by trains. One train killed 270 antelope near Vandalia, Montana. Winterkill was so bad in northeastern Montana that the game agency significantly reduced fall antelope and deer permits and quotas with some areas reducing permits by 90 percent. The Milk River area suffered a double whammy because EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease) hit that area with heavy losses of whitetails. One guide there refunded all his fall hunters and said he could not reopen for deer for several years. To make things worse, because of the severe winter and wet spring, fawn production for deer and antelope was the lowest in 50 years. As you read this, hopefully that region has not been blanketed by snow again. Deer and antelope there just can't take another severe winter.

Other parts of that region also got tons of snow. The bear camp I bowhunt in southwestern Manitoba had record snows and reports were that the snows, combined with wolf predation, took very high numbers of deer and elk in and around Riding Mountain National Park.

When the 2010-11 snows in the upper Midwest melted there was major flooding up and down Middle America that went into July. Snowmelt flooding was exacerbated by record high May and June rainfall. The Souris River in North Dakota broke all previous flooding records. Those deep snows (again) followed by heavy rains led to a second straight year of high losses of antelope. The decline of 2011 was 30 percent more than that seen in 2010. With such losses, it's no wonder the N.D. Game and Fish Department had to close the antelope season for the second straight year.

Birds also took a hit. The cold, wet weather in South Dakota cut pheasant populations by 46 percent. Southwest Minnesota saw their pheasants drop by 82 percent compared to 2010.

Heavy rains were not the problem in Oklahoma and Texas. They suffered the worst drought in history compounded by many major fires. Wildlife recovers fairly quickly from fire, but drought is another issue. Research in South Texas shows a direct correlation between spring rains and antler growth in whitetails. I haven't seen the data on antlers from that region for this past fall, but based on history antler quality should have been substantially lower than most years.

Ducks like water, and the pothole country of North Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan had plenty of water last spring and summer. To top it off, a record high 46 million ducks returned there last spring to nest. In fact, only wigeons and green-winged teal were down, and interestingly they nest in the far North where 2011 spring floods had no impact. They did not benefit from the expansion of potholes that helped the other duck species.

Then there were tons of tornadoes and hurricanes throughout the Midwest, and lest we forget, in September the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee flooded towns and farms along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and many areas of New York and New England. I'm not sure how all that impacted wildlife, but those hurricanes and floods were definitely not a plus. Hopefully the weather in 2012 will calm down a bit.



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Title Annotation:Know Hunting
Author:Samuel, Dave
Date:Feb 1, 2012
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