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More than ample snowfall affecting area wildlife

Due to snow, deer and other wildlife struggle to find food

February 11, 2011
By Edie Wurgler

Although a short break in the unrelenting snow and cold in the past couple of weeks has given some respite to wildlife, observers say the animals are still having a tough go of it.

Evan Rham, who lives north of Rugby, sees upland game every day on his drive to work. "From what I can see the grouse, partridges and pheasants are all coming to the side of the road looking for food," he said. "We have more grouse than pheasants," he added. He thinks since pheasants aren't native to the area, they don't have the survival instincts of grouse.

At Wolford, the wildlife club has been feeding deer, according to member Jason Marchus. "Wherever the deer are bunching up, that's where we've put bales," he said. Locations include the Hawk Museum grounds, in the city of Wolford, the Newt Erickson farm and a few other places. In addition the club has two feeders for upland game in Wolford. Animals are in trouble because the snow is so deep, Jason says. "It snows almost every day. If they dig down to feed one day, the next day they have to do it again." The stress of getting to the food is taking a toll on the deer.

The deer aren't just bunching up in the countryside, either, wildlife watchers say. A herd of 40 or 50 shows up regularly at the elevator in York, and several Rugby residents have been startled seeing deer in their yards or even lying on their patios. A small herd has taken up residence in Little Flower Cemetery on Rugby's east edge. At least one more herd is in the southwest part of Rugby, where resident Don Jelsing has been feeding them.

Bryan Leapaldt is a member of the York-Leeds Wildlife Club and sees evidence of suffering animals every day. "Right now the deer population is in really tough shape," he said. "We could lose 30-40 percent of our deer if they can't get to a food source," Leapaldt, who is the herdsman at the Roger Kenner ranch south of Leeds, also sees a lot of upland game. "In our hay yard we've got all kinds of pheasants and partridge," he said.

Gerald Kurtyka of Rugby fed upland game north of town for several years, but came to believe he and his friends were fighting a losing battle. He isn't sure feeding efforts succeed to any degree because the snow just gets deeper and deeper and there is very little shelter from the wind. "It's tough," he said. "I feel bad about the game being out there. Where they survive at all is where people have cattle. Those farmers keep the snow away and there is feed for them."

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Another kind of wildlife is attracting attention, but little sympathy, from local residents. Coyotes seem to be having a great winter. "They're thriving," Richard Sollin says of the wily animal. His son, Daryl, has organized coyote hunts the past few years and plans another for today, February 12. "He lives to hunt coyotes," Richard said. Coyotes are a challenging prey, he adds, going downwind and circling around to catch a whiff of any enemy. "When they pick up a scent, they're gone."

The York-Leeds Wildlife Club sponsored a coyote hunt February 5. "The coyotes are really raising havoc with the deer," said Bryan Leapaldt of the impetus for the hunt. Fifteen teams of two or three members each competed, with a total of 29 coyotes killed. Leapaldt isn't sure how large an area the hunters covered. "They could go wherever they wanted, but had to return by checkout time," he said. One team sighted 40 coyotes, while several others saw more than 30. Hunters could use any legal firearm, but no ATVs, snowmobiles or other vehicles were allowed. "The majority was shot by calling them in," Leapaldt said, and the carcasses were recovered by hunters on snowshoes. "The weather was beautiful and that really helped," he added.

North Dakota Game and Fish no longer encourages feeding wildlife either, Kurtyka says, because animals are accustomed to surviving on their natural surroundings and feeding them gets them used to eating in one place only. Then the animals can become an easy target for predators.

Balta resident Richard Sollin says deer are having a rough time in his area. Neil Mack farms near town and has about 60 deer eating his hay. "The deer are moving in where the pickings are easy," Richard said. Other area farmers say the deer are eating evergreen trees but not touching their hay.

With the calendar showing more than a month of winter left, man and beast alike are hoping for a little good news in the form of an early spring.



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