MANITOULIN ISLAND — A typical Northern Ontario winter with heavy snowfall and deep freeze temperatures can have massive impacts on white-tailed deer populations. Generally speaking, deer are equipped with enough body fat tolerate temperatures as low as -30 degrees celsius. But a typical winter it’s not been with temperatures on Manitoulin Island averaging between -1 and -13 degrees centigrade. 

Last year, the provincial government elicited a report, Ontario Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment, in an attempt to project the impacts of our changing climate and extreme weather events on everything from infrastructure, to agriculture and forestry industries. 

Among the predictions are the opportunity for the introduction of new crops to the area as well as the rise and fall in different wildlife species including moose and whitetail deer. Warmer winters could see a rise in white-tailed deer populations. 

The Expositor spoke with retired Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) Conservation Officer Ian Anderson of Manitoulin Island. He said that in his 50 years of living on the Island this is the second easiest winter he has seen and that “the warm weather isn’t a detriment to deer populations. I expect a good fawn crop as the does’ have had a low stress winter. They should have a fair amount of body fat in the spring and the herd should be as as we have ever seen.” 

However, as deer populations rise, there may be an impingement on native plant species as deer excoriate the land of their favourite plants and could cause further changes in local ecosystems. Deer have a preference for consuming trillium, particularly the scarce white trillium, a flowering plant species safeguarded in Ontario where plucking them on conservation lands is prohibited by law. To maintain a forest boasting a diverse understory teeming with wildflowers and shrubs, it could be necessary to decrease a possibly over abundant deer population.

Some experts say that even a cull might not work in the short term, as deer are capable of reproducing nearly as quickly as they can be harvested. While this might be a nuisance to some, it could make for a very prolific hunting season this year. 

By Jacqueline St. Pierre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 10, 2024 at 15:26

This item reprinted with permission from   Manitoulin Expositor   Little Current, Ontario
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