PIERRE – So far this fall’s weather has been pretty harsh. Though conditions have not yet equaled the weather of 1996-97, increasing quantities of snow and bitter cold temperatures are beginning to have a comparable effect on some of the state’s wildlife. Game, Fish and Parks officials say landowners experiencing wildlife depredation on privately stored feeds should contact their nearest Game, Fish and Parks official or office for help.
"The department has mechanisms to help landowners experiencing wildlife depredation problems," said Assitant Wildlife Director Emmett Keyser. "We will do the best we can to reduce or minimize damage to stored crops, haystacks and forage. We have several different methods that can be used, depending on the situation."
Keyser emphasized that landowners should not take matters into their own hands by attempting to eliminate deer or other protected wildlife. "Such acts can result in criminal prosecution and/or civil penalties," he noted.
The essential thing, Keyser said, is developing a partnership with affected landowners. "With their help, we can often be fairly successful at reducing damage," he said. "We do know there are a number of farmers and ranchers who are already providing feed for wildlife, and we certainly want to recognize their efforts too."
Things landowners can do to help might include opening trails so the department can shortstop the deer before they get to the forage. Shortstopping can work well when deer use a regular route to get to stored hay or forage.
"By placing an alternate source of food along that route, we can often keep the deer away from the farmer or rancher^s feed supplies," Keyser said.
He added that it is important to differentiate shortstopping from feeding programs. "Our resident wildlife species can generally survive the winter on their fat reserves. In most situations, there is no way to have any significant statewide impact through artificial feeding of wildlife," he said. "We have placed our highest priority on providing short-stop feed to help reduce deer damage problems."
Other methods that can work in certain situations, include scare devices and temporary fencing. In areas where temporary fencing can be used to protect hay, Game, Fish and Parks can provide the fence materials. Because manpower is limited, however, landowner assistance in helping erect the fence to cover the feed is especially important.
When the deer cannot be kept out of an area, Game, Fish and Parks has the option of utilizing a Depredation Pool hunt. Hunters who applied for the pool are offered a chance to harvest deer at a specific location, and the hunt details are coordinated with individual landowners.
In these hunts, each hunter can usually take two antlerless deer. The hunting pressure helps disperse the deer, reduce damage to livestock feed, and hunters get some venison to take home.
The department can also utilize limited kill permits to reduce deer numbers in areas where there are safety concerns or hunter access problems caused by winter weather conditions. These kill permits allow conservation officers to harvest limited numbers of deer and are also designed to frighten and disperse deer. Deer killed are then provided to the needy or charitable organizations.
"This winter could have an impact on the future," Keyser noted. "We appear to have achieved the deer harvest we wanted during the regular seasons. If we continue to have heavy snows and cold temperatures, deer survival and even spring reproduction could have an impact on the deer population. The result might be fewer deer permits available next year.
"Whatever happens the rest of this winter, we want to do the best we can to allow deer to coexist with farmers and ranchers. If that means taking direct action in some cases, that^s what we will do."