Bozeman — Milder winter conditions this year compared to last year will likely mean better wildlife survival in southwest Montana.
Some wildlife surveys are still being conducted, but biologists with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks have not seen significant mortality for wildlife in most parts of Region 3. Good survival has been observed for elk in the Gravelly and Madison ranges, pronghorn in the Madison Valley, bighorn sheep in the Taylor Hilgards, deer and elk south of Butte, and all species around Townsend.
If temperatures continue to warm up this month, wildlife will likely survive into spring and summer.
“It is still ‘starving time,’” said Bozeman area biologist Julie Cunningham, noting that animals are waiting for vegetation to green up. “April will be key. Let’s hope for a nice one.”
Last year, low temperatures and heavy snowfall persisted through April, which resulted in high stress and greater mortality for wildlife. This was especially true for young of the year and yearlings as evidenced by low calf and spike counts.
“We can expect a reduced number of bulls in the spike and 2-year-old age class this fall,” said Butte area biologist Vanna Boccadori.
Residents who see deer, elk and other wildlife near their homes can help them survive and transition into spring by not feeding them. Some wildlife may appear in poor condition right now, but feeding wildlife at this time of year, in addition to being illegal, could actually kill them. Their rumens are adjusted to dry, nutrient-poor forage. If they are suddenly given nutrient-rich forage, this could cause ulcers in their stomachs, which can be fatal.
Feeding wildlife can cause a host of other problems, including artificial congregations of animals, habituation to humans and human safety concerns. Please help wildlife survive by keeping them wild.