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Animals deal with chill better – Wildlife should do well in extreme cold

By Staff | Jan 30, 2008

As you walked across the street Tuesday, you probably wondered how on earth a person could survive such extreme cold. In fact, schools in Palo Alto and Kossuth counties did not bus students but had parents come to town to pick them up, rather than risk driving students home in blizzard conditions.

So what would it be like if you lived outside all the time? Like an animal, maybe?

Actually, animals fare quite well in those -50 to -60-degree conditions, according to Emmet County Conservation Board Director Eric Anderson.

Anderson said wildlife is naturally adapted to finding shelter. “All they have to do is get into any shelter at all,” Anderson said.

Animals will gravitate toward low-lying areas such as along river valleys, particularly along sheltered areas. “It’s unbelievably warmer,” than the higher country above, Anderson said.

Monday’s brief warmup helped a lot as far as exposing feed for animals.

One situation that can cause problems, though, is if a layer of ice forces animals to work harder to reach food. However, snow normally doesn’t cause problems for animals in getting to their dinner.

Anderson noted that living snow fences around the country help sustain both deer and pheasant populations. However, pheasants are more likely to come out into the open where the snow fences are located.

All in all, the animals should fare pretty well, though, Anderson said.

“They’ll be all right,” Anderson said. “They’re pretty tough.”

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lakes area Wildlife Biologist Chris LaRue said the warmup the last several days indeed helped wildlife.

“There’s nothing I would be extremely concerned about,” LaRue said.

If the current extreme cold lasts for a week or more, then there could be some added stress to wildlife, LaRue said. One area of concern could be shallow lakes with no water flow — fish kills could occur in shallow areas. A greater concern, though, should be outdoor pets not used to extreme cold.

Pheasants may have had a little more difficulty getting to food through the snow than in recent years. LaRue said this is the first winter for a while that the DNR has advised people on how to place food out for pheasants.

Bryan Hellyer, DNR Estherville area wildlife biologist, said anytime there are several days of extreme cold there could be cause for concern for some species. Many people elect to establish food plots to help wildlife through the winter.

Hellyer said managed wildlife areas provide quite ample cover and food. Monday’s thaw did quite a bit to expose food for wildlife, he said.

“That really helps because that allows food to be accessible,” Hellyer said.

Hellyer said wildlife is harmed more by exposure than starvation. The public can help by planting cover vegetation to help wildlife. Another thing that benefits wildlife is food plots with corn, soybeans, and alfalfa strategically placed on wildlife management areas.

So, provided the extreme cold doesn’t last too long, wildlife should weather the winter fairly well. Unlike us, they’re used to it.

Contact Michael Tidemann at (712) 362-2622 or mtidemann@esthervilledailynews.com and visit our photo sharing Web site at cu.esthervilledailynews.com