Doug Lear: It can be hard for people to accept the reality of winter and wildlife – Grand Forks Herald

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Doug Lear is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Department of Fish and Fish. You can reach him at

WEST FARGO – When the phone rings or a sound comes from the inbox, it reminds us to unwrap a Christmas present. I literally have no idea what’s behind the loops and sounds. It’s part of my job that really keeps me awake and I enjoy it.

It could be questions about regulations, the hottest hunting bite or just random wildlife observation, I never know what’s coming.

As the saying goes, I truly believe there is no such thing as a silly question. none. Telephone conversations allow for a natural flow and context with emotion, which is an important aspect of understanding where the caller is coming from.

I got a call about a wounded goose early this winter, and after explaining how the goose didn’t want to be captured, told the caller that risking human life by wagging through thin ice was not something I’d suggest. If a human being is rescued, you wouldn’t expect them to try to bite you. A goose or any other animal is likely to see you as a threat and either defend itself or run away.

Watching a goose or deer suffer injury, illness or disease is not for the faint of heart. But it happens. It’s Nature and as you point out, Nature is more PG-13 or rated “R” for violence than G.

So it goes along with feeding wildlife in winter, even during a mild winter. North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists get asked about feeding the wildlife, and quite frankly, most people I’ve spoken to don’t want to hear the answer.

The ingredients—food, water, shelter, and space—needed to sustain wildlife through the harsh Midwest winters have not changed and remain the same.

For the humans involved, providing food and water for wildlife was more readily available, while cover and space were more time-consuming and costly, and therefore neither easy nor economical to put into practice. In fact, many people felt that providing additional winter food would make up for the general lack of adequate winter cover and adequate space.

Even North Dakota’s milder winters see periods of extreme cold that threaten some wild animals. Pheasants and even songbirds have been found dead with entire crops, succumbing to snow and hail, even when feeders are full. Over time, it became clear that more than food was needed to improve wildlife survival in the winter.

But what you don’t see if you don’t watch it all the time is that when deer are pulled from suitable cover and artificially concentrated around mounds of corn and bundles of alfalfa, the natural pecking arrangement preserves needed nutrients from the yearling’s young, which can even increase mortality. If enough fodder is provided. Big and Strong acts like a class bully when a piñata breaks, stocking up on the goodies while others struggle for even a bite.

A couple of years ago, a friend was having fun with rabbits in his backyard feeding on some scattering grain. Soon after, when I asked for a status update, he said the rabbits had shrunk and he thought it was a coyote who was taking advantage of his “help” to the rabbits.

This is a good example of a well-intentioned decision that may have done more harm than good, and helps sum up the current evolving theory about nutrition: it may be good for an individual or a few animals, but it doesn’t do much for the overall health of a species and in some cases can increase Things get worse.

The bottom line is that natural food plots, with adequate winter cover nearby, are best for wildlife management.

This comes from a balanced natural mix of food, water, shelter, and space. This is the best recommendation, given the research and knowledge we have.

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