Cold winter has been cruel to younger deer

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By Brian Sweeney
A harsh winter could have an adverse effect on the Catskills’ younger whitetail deer population, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation Department officials.
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Wildlife Biologist Larry Bifaro in Stamford said that deer have a reserve of fat designed to carry them through the winter months. Lingering snow and cold puts those reserves to the test.
Mr. Bifaro noted that the winter started out really cold, but that most of the snowfall occurred in February and a lot of that snow is still on the ground.
He indicated that DEC observations in late February and early March showed “some of the fawns looking a little shabby.”

Showing wear and tear
He said that when deer appear hunched up and have bristled fur, they are suffering the effects harsh weather conditions.
“These types of winters, we don’t worry too much about the adults,” but the impact on fawns will be key for DEC staff.
“The adults should do fine and we may lose some fawns,” he explained.
On the positive side, he noted that last fall’s abundance of nuts, apples, etc. made it possible for deer to build healthy fat reserves ahead of the winter. He noted that the browse that deer eat during the winter offers only supplmental assistance, because much of it has low nutritional value.
Mr. Bifaro said that deer are now in the process of switching their diets to the green sprouts that have begun appearing in fields.
“Deer have been hidden for much of the winter, but now they are active nearly 24 hours a day,” Mr. Bifaro noted, explaining the frequent sightings of deer. “They are avoiding north-facing slopes and hanging out in the melting areas.”
In addition to observing deer herds, DEC staff members also break open the femur of road-kill deer and study the bone marrow to determine the amount of fat reserves remaining at the end of the winter.
Mr. Bifaro said that many factors are considered when the DEC determines the number of doe permits that it issues each hunting season to help maintain desired herd levels.
“We also look at both snow depth and cold temps. It’s a lot of subjective kind of work,” he explained.

Last winter was mild
The DEC biologist indicated that last winter was relatively mild and was not particularly hard on the deer population. The previous winter proved more difficult on the regional deer herd, he said.
The DEC saw a decline in buck take in 2011 season (following the harsh 2010-11 winter) and cut back on doe permits for the next season.
He also recalled a significant decline in the buck population following a harsh winter around 2002. That situation eventually led to the temporary suspension of doe permits in Delaware County and some other areas during the ensuing hunting season.
Mr. Bifaro said decisions regarding doe permits will be made by DEC official around May. He also invited landowners who find a lot of dead deer on their property to contact the DEC office in Stamford at 607 652-7367 because this type of information is factored into the state’s planning efforts.