Doug Leier: The reality of winter and wildlife can be hard for people to accept – Grand Forks Herald


Doug Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish. Contact him at

WEST FARGO – When your phone rings or your inbox rings, it’s reminiscent of opening a Christmas present. I literally have no idea what is behind the rings and pings. It’s a part of my job that really keeps me on my toes and I enjoy it.

It could be questions about regulations, the best fishing bite, or just a random wildlife sighting, I never know what’s coming.

As the saying goes, I truly believe there are no such things as dumb questions. There is no phone conversations allow for a more natural flow and context with emotion, an important aspect of understanding where the caller is coming from.

I got a call about an injured goose earlier this winter, and after explaining that the goose doesn’t want to be caught, I told the caller that risking human life to slide on thin ice is not something I would suggest. If you were rescuing a human, you wouldn’t expect it to try to bite you. Most likely, a goose or other animal will see you as a threat and fight back or run away.

Watching a goose or deer suffer from an injury, illness or disease is not for the faint of heart. But it happens. It’s nature, and as I’ve explained, nature is more PG-13 or rated “R” for violence than G.

The same is true of winter feeding for wildlife, even during a mild winter. Biologists at the North Dakota Department of Fish and Game are asked about wildlife feeding, and frankly, most people I talk to don’t want to hear the answer.

The components (food, water, shelter, and space) needed to sustain wildlife through a harsh Midwestern winter have not changed and remain the same.

For concerned humans, food and water for wildlife were more easily provided, while cover and space were more time consuming and expensive, and therefore not considered easy or inexpensive to implement. In fact, many people felt that providing extra food for the winter would make up for the general lack of adequate winter cover and space.

Even the mildest North Dakota winters have periods of extreme cold that threaten some wildlife. Pheasants and even songbirds are found dead with full maws, succumbing to the snow and cold, even when the feeders are full. Over time, it has become apparent that more than food is needed to improve wildlife survival in winter.

But what you don’t see if you’re not watching all the time is that when deer are removed from suitable cover and artificially concentrated around corn piles and alfalfa bales, the natural pecking order maintains the necessary nutrients of the year’s young, which can possibly lead to increased mortality even if adequate food is provided. The big and strong act as the class bullies when the piƱata breaks, hoarding the goodies while the others fight for even a bite.

A couple of years ago a friend was enjoying the rabbits in his backyard feeding on some scattered grain. Not long after, when I asked him for a status update, he told me that the rabbits had reduced in number and he thought the reason was a coyote taking advantage of him “helping” the rabbits.

This is a good example of a well-intentioned decision that perhaps did more harm than good, and helps to sum up the current developing theory of feeding: it may be good for an individual or some animals, but it does little for overall health. . of a kind and, in some cases, it can make things worse.

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

That comes from a naturally balanced mix of food, water, shelter, and space. That’s the best recommendation, given the research and knowledge we have.

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