The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Columns

February 1, 2014

Wintertime, and the livin' ain't easy

To borrow a line from actor W.C. Fields, we’ve had plenty of evenings this winter when “It ain’t a fit night for man or beast.”

But at least man can come in from the cold.

The beasts are not so lucky.

This winter, we’ve had more than 30 days of sub-zero temperatures — the most since the winter of 1977-78 according to meteorologists —and there’s plenty of winter yet to come.

Nevertheless, southern Minnesota wildlife species seem to be weathering the conditions pretty well.

With notable exceptions, snow depths in much of southern Minnesota have been minimal with plenty of open areas swept clean to give wildlife easy mobility and access to food sources like waste grains.

In extreme southwest Minnesota, the snow line tapers off to nearly nothing along the Iowa border. South of a line drawn from northwest to southeast, Iowa is virtually snow-free. Similar conditions extend across South Dakota westward from Sioux Falls.

An exception to the relatively light snow conditions in farmland Minnesota is the Alexandria area, where snow depth maps show from 20-30 inches of cover.

Ken Varland, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Regional Wildlife Supervisor at New Ulm, said that winter is always a tough time for wildlife, with limited food sources and winter cover rather than cold temperatures presenting the biggest challenge to survival.

“Things may have changed in some areas with the most recent snow, but a good indicator of winter conditions is deer behavior,” he said.

“Deer definitely are grouped up but we’ve had very few calls or complaints about depredation,” he said, an indication that deer are able to forage in open fields rather than relying on food sources intended for domestic livestock — haystacks and the like.

Randy Markl, an area wildlife manager stationed at Windom said that in southwest Minnesota, pheasants have fared well.

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