The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Index shows winter reaches severe level for deer, turkeys


Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe

A LONE fisherman jigs for trout, cohos and herring through the Lake Superior ice at Saxon Harbor Friday morning. Unlike recent winters, the catch rate has been very poor this year and angler numbers have also dropped off.

It's no secret that northern Wisconsin's winter has reached the "very severe" stage, as reflected in Department of Natural Resources readings.

The Winter Severity Index reading at Upson stood at 107 through the end of February. A reading of 100 is considered to be very severe on the DNR's scale.

The index measures days with snow of at least 18 inches and temperatures below zero, so at least another 20 points could be added to Upson's total for March.

The same holds true for Mercer, with a reading of 114 at the end of February.

For Saxon Harbor, the reading was only 69 at the end of February because of the lesser snow depth that attracts herds of deer to the Lake Superior shoreline in winter months.

The WDNR's readings showed Gile at 107 points.

Brule stood at a whopping 127 points and nearby Barnes was at 144, the highest recorded in the state.

DNR wildlife officials are particularly concerned about deer and turkeys.

"We have received some reports of dead deer and turkeys, especially in northern Wisconsin, where snow is more than 30 inches deep," said Tom Hauge, DNR director of wildlife management.

While animals native to Wisconsin are equipped to handle snow and cold, too much for too long for species such as turkeys can be overwhelming.

WSI measurements are recorded at 43 stations across the northern third of the state and in several east-central counties.

Winter conditions are considered mild if a station accumulates less than 50 points, moderate for 51 to 80 points, severe between 81 and 100, and very severe if more than 100.

When the severe level is reached, deer losses can become common.

Mike Zeckmeister, WDNR northern wildlife supervisor, said more stations will reach the severe level in coming weeks.

DNR biologists ask the public to report any dead deer and turkeys to the DNR website by searching for keywords "dead deer."

Additionally, DNR biologists are working in the field this time of year, monitoring deer and their habitats and talking to loggers, foresters, trappers and others who frequent the woods.

Sam Jonas, DNR wildlife biologist for Iron County, stationed in Mercer, surveyed a 4-mile stretch near the Wisconsin-Michigan border that runs through a wintering area and observed about 70 deer and 16 turkeys.

"The deer are browsing cedar, hemlock and other brush in area," Jonas said. "I am sure we do have some winter mortality in areas, however the deer I have seen in this wintering area look like they are faring pretty well so far, including the fawns. Late March and April is historically when we see winter mortality, so I will be doing a lot of snowshoeing into deer yards at that time to check on things."


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