Photo Credit: Josh Metten (@joshmettenphoto)
Right now we’re in the heart of winter – the snow is deep, the ice is fat, and temperatures are solidly below freezing. For people who love playing in the snow, this is the best time of year.
For deer, elk, and other ungulates, however, life is tough. Cold temperatures and deep snow tax animals’ energy reserves and winter foods do not provide much in terms of calories (but feeding wildlife is not the answer!).
Wildlife research shows that when ungulates are disturbed and stressed during the winter their physical condition and chances of surviving or successfully raising offspring diminishes, leading to significant herd and population declines.
Skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, and other types of winter recreation are more popular than ever. And, wildlife encounters are part of what makes outdoor recreation memorable. To be sure our winter fun doesn’t inadvertently harm wildlife, it’s important to know how to avoid or lessen our impacts.
We can all do our part to protect wintering wildlife by avoiding ungulate winter range, being flexible and willing to change plans when necessary, and taking care not to disturb wildlife. Here’s how:
1. Know Before You Go
As you plan trips and activities, look up local wildlife habitat area boundaries and consider conditions. Are there any closures or warnings? Can you avoid traveling through winter range? Will animals likely be in “survival mode” at that time of year? Make a Plan A, B, and C.
2. Go to Plan B
If you see a herd or fresh tracks, turn back. Consider Plans B and C. If you encounter wildlife, give them space. Be patient. Be silent. Move slowly. Do not let dogs chase wildlife. If wildlife are at lower elevations, go high. Inform others on the trail.
3. “Green-Up” is Not a Green Light
“Green-up” is when green vegetation finally re-emerges after a long winter, meaning more food for wildlife. Wildlife try to bulk up and recover in spring, after being at the very end of their energy reserves. They’re not “out of the woods” yet, so continue being cautious.