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Winter index monitors health of northern WI deer herd

From the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

-- State wildlife staff are again monitoring the effects of winter on Wisconsin's northern deer herd using as system known as the Winter Severity Index. So far things look pretty good.

The index uses a combination and accumulation of cold temperatures and deep snows that historically have proven to affect the health and population of deer.

Biologists and other department staff add the number of days with daily low temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit and the number of days with 18 inches or more of snow on the ground. Up to 50 combined points at the end of the winter is considered mild, from 51 to 80 is considered moderate, 81 and over is considered severe, and any totals over 100 points are considered very severe.

To date, most of northern Wisconsin has snow depths that allow good deer movement, according to Mike Zeckmeister, northern region wildlife biologist.

Zeckmeister said with a little more snow, most stations will be adding snow days to their reporting. "Depending on what happens for the rest of the winter, we could go either way. We will factor all of this in, including the final Winter Severity, when we set deer quotas later this spring," he said.

The north's 2010 deer population was in good shape and hunters helped reduce deer numbers going into the winter, and this will help them survive. Last year's winter was considered mild, the biologist said, "and we saw a very early spring green-up that provided sustenance for pregnant does, ensuring a healthy fawn crop."

Zeckmeister said last summer's ample rainfall provided good growth of summer vegetation that helped deer build up fat reserves for this winter.

"Our November deer harvest trimmed the herd, and that means fewer deer competing for winter forage," he said. Too many deer going into a winter can seriously degrade winter browse. It can take years to recover, and hinder overwinter survival of deer.

Wildlife managers are currently studying deer populations and planning for the 2011 deer season. Public meetings will be held in March to  discuss the condition of the deer herd and prospects for fall.  Zeckmeister said people interested in deer and proposals for next fall's deer seasons should watch for announcements of local meetings. For more information, contact him at (715) 635-4090.

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