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Snow hounds game

Sun., Jan. 11, 2009, midnight

Volunteers harvest bumper crop

Deep snow isn’t the only curse dogging wildlife in the region this week.

“Loose dogs are taking a toll on deer,” Wanda Clifford, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council executive director, said Tuesday.

“We got a call about a deer with a chewed off leg hiding under somebody’s deck. That’s the fifth or sixth one in the last few days.”

The council has a trained volunteer group that sees the problem first hand.

“There’s a pack of dogs in north Spokane near Shady Slope Road that’s really been bringing them down,” said Ken Hoff, council president and coordinator for the group’s Big-Game Recovery Team. “I’m sure they kill a lot of deer we never see.”

Loose-running dogs — even gentle family pets — can generate a pack mentality and chase deer, said Madonna Luers, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department spokeswoman in Spokane. In certain snow conditions, the dogs can catch and injure or kill the deer outright, or maybe the wild animal will get away but die later from exhaustion.

Allowing dogs to run free and harass wildlife is illegal, she noted, especially during winter when big-game animals must save their fat reserves simply to survive the weather.

Meantime, the recovery team, aka the Roadkill Angels, get most of their work responding to calls about big game that’s been killed or gravely injured in collisions with motor vehicles.

“We get the calls from the wildlife and sheriff’s departments, and when we come into the office at 8 a.m. the phone has been ringing with calls from the public,” Clifford said.

The team of about 25 volunteers is trained to assess an injured animal and determine whether the meat is salvageable. Members are certified to euthanize suffering animals where it’s safe to do so and then do the hard work of field dressing, hauling, skinning and delivering the meat to local charity kitchens, which welcome the free source of protein, Clifford said.

So far this winter, the Roadkill Angels have had a bumper crop.

“It’s really overwhelming at this point,” Hoff said Tuesday. “These are volunteers with jobs, and they can respond to only so many cases before they have to go home and shovel out their own homes. We’re getting a lot, but we can’t get them all.

“Last week we salvaged four deer, two moose and one elk around Spokane.”

“Deep snow drives big game out of the woods and into any area’s where they can move without expending so much energy,” Hoff said. “Unfortunately, that means they often go to plowed roads.”

Deer and elk also are attracted to trails packed by livestock and, of course, the haystacks that feed them.

Last week, a group of six Washington-certified Master Hunters helped tie tarps around haystacks that were being ravaged by 30-50 elk in the Tyler-Edwall area, said Dave Spurbeck, Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer.

Master Hunters are required to log at least 40 hours of volunteer conservation service each year in return for special hunting privileges.

“The landowner tried hazing and he was even spending the night in his pickup to scare them away,” Spurbeck said. “But one morning he woke up and the elk were all around him tearing up the stacks.

“He allowed some hunters in during the December season, but the elk figured that out real quick. They came in at night and were gone to somebody else’s property by daylight. The hunters never got one.”

In a freak incident Tuesday, six wild elk taking refuge from deep snow and a storm in an old hay storage shed in Pend Oreille County were killed when the roof collapsed under weight of the snow.

Most calls coming into the Fish and Wildlife Department are requests or demands from the public for action to feed the wintering wildlife.

“The animals are congregated and very visible in these harsh winter conditions and it’s natural for people to want to help them,” Luers said. “But for a list of reasons we have on our Web site, we don’t promote winter feeding, except in a few special cases on important winter ranges. And besides, we couldn’t afford to do it everywhere.”

Although the winter certainly has dealt a heavy hand to wildlife in recent weeks, it’s still too early to predict its long-term impact on wildlife.

“They are evolved to deal with our winters,” Luers said. “They had a good forage year to put on fat for the winter, and that is more important to their survival that what they have available to eat at this time of year.”

Left to themselves, big game animals have been dealing with deep snow and cold better than many humans.

State biologists doing an aerial survey last week found deer, elk and moose congregated on south-facing slopes, where sunshine and wind work in their favor for warmth and mobility.

“They’re just hunkered in where there’s the least snow waiting for things to get better,” Luers said. “The best thing people can do is leave them undisturbed: Tie up the dogs and take their skis and snowmobiles to the high country.”

So far, wild turkeys have not been a huge issue to landowners as they were last winter, Luers said.

Some moose have been killed by trains in North Idaho, but the reports haven’t reached the staggering level approaching the 75 known to be killed by trains last winter, said Craig Walker, Idaho Fish and Game Department conservation officer in Coeur d’Alene.

“Winter’s not nearly over,” he said.

Don’t forget, what the Roadkill Angels don’t collect doesn’t go to waste.

Coyotes, ravens and other predators and scavengers flourish in a bad winter.

Last weekend, a line of cars was slowing on Mount Spokane State Park Road to watch bald eagles feasting on a vehicle-killed deer.

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