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Harsh Winter Taking Toll

These are tough times for the region’s wildlife.

In some areas, particularly in northern Washington and Idaho’s Panhandle, big-game animals are wallowing in deep snow desperately trying to find food.

At the same time, some thoughtless snowmobilers are harassing animals. And dogs, running in packs, are chasing and killing deer and elk. The chases burn up fat reserves needed for survival.

Quail, partridges and turkeys are attempting to break through crusted snow in some places to find enough food.

So far, only birds and animals that live in areas hit by frequent snowstorms in November and December are in trouble. Those areas are in Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan counties. Fortunately for wildlife in many areas, particularly along the Snake and Columbia rivers and in other parts of the Spokane region and North Idaho, the big meltdown early this month erased or reduced snow covers, enabling wildlife to find food.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife already is feeding thousands of deer and elk, but officials are emphasizing to state residents that only a fraction of the animals can be reached and fed during a harsh winter and that feeding animals has serious drawbacks.

Nevertheless, the department, strapped for money as usual, is appealing to residents for donations to keep a big feeding program going through the winter. Officials say feeding wildlife is costly. For example, it costs about $15 a month to feed one deer.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has offered $25,000 to the department to help feed thousands of elk. Donations can be mailed to WDFW General Accounting, 600 Capitol Way, N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department started feeding pellets to deer in the Priest Lake area this week, regional wildlife manager Jim Hayden said. The agency probably will feed deer in the Bonners Ferry area, too, he added.

“The deer are able to get around easier now than they could a week ago, ” he said. “However, there are extreme conditions in some areas, particularly in Boundary and Bonner counties.”

The Inland Northwest Wildlife Council also is feeding birds and big-game animals. It is filling big-game feeders this week and stocking bird feeders.

The Washington wildlife department is feeding more than 8,000 elk at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area north of Yakima, twice the number it normally does each winter.

The department also is feeding elk at the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area south of Ellensburg and deer in the Entiat Wildlife Area in Chelan County, in the Palisades area of Douglas County, the Methow and Okanogan valleys, the Wenatchee Valley and Grant County.

“We can’t feed all the deer, elk and other wildlife stressed by this unusually severe winter,” assistant department director Dave Brittell said. “We’re addressing areas where herds are most at risk and where damage and public safety are the biggest problems.

“We know we’ll still lose many animals to a winter like this. It’s the way nature balances populations.”

The department feeds alfalfa hay and pellets to big-game animals. It takes a while for the animals’ digestive systems to adjust to the change in diet from their natural browse. If deer don’t have enough fat reserves to carry them through the adjustment period, they can die of starvation with a belly full of food.

Because animals concentrate near feeders, they’re more vulnerable than usual to predators and poachers. In addition, if a feeder is near a frequently traveled road, many are killed by vehicles.

But thanks to an unusually wet spring and summer that led to lush browse and grasses, big-game animals throughout the Inland Northwest were in excellent condition when snow began piling up in November.

They’re still in fairly good condition. If the rest of the winter is mild, losses may not be great. If snow continues to pile up and temperatures drop below zero and stay down for two or three weeks, thousands of animals could lose their fat reserves before spring and die.

The Washington and Idaho wildlife agencies are appealing to dog owners who live in areas where there are deer to keep their pets at home during the winter months. Free-roaming dogs can gather in packs and run deer.

Idaho and Washington have laws prohibiting the harassment of wildlife. Wildlife officers can, in extreme cases, kill dogs that are harassing animals.

Dogs are more of a problem than snowmobilers. Generally, snowmobile owners are aware that their activities in big-game country can stress the animals and they try to stay away from deer.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Fenton Roskelley by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 3814.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Fenton Roskelley The Spokesman-Review

You can contact Fenton Roskelley by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 3814.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Fenton Roskelley The Spokesman-Review

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