Arizona Wildlife Expected to Weather Storms
PHOENIX — The winter storms and accompanying deep snows that impacted Arizona this week may make it challenging for wildlife in the short term, but wildlife biologists do not expect significant impacts to most species, especially large animals such as elk, deer and antelope.“Our biologists will continue monitoring the situation, but we don’t expect any catastrophic impacts to wildlife based on the weather events unfolding this week,” said Brian Wakeling, the Game Branch chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Wakeling said Arizona’s high country now has lots of deep snow which can make it challenging for elk, deer and other wild animals. “But this has also been a fairly warm storm without prolonged cold conditions – at least not so far.”
Most wild animals are adapted so they can survive days without eating, possibly even a week or more if necessary. “The key is the cold – how tough is it for them to break through the snow to reach their forage items and how long does the deep snow stay on the ground?” Wakeling explained.
However, he added, there may be localized instances where the department will step in to give wild animals experiencing trouble a helping hand. “Probably the most common problem I can think of is animals like elk and deer being trapped along a fence line due to deep snow. In those instances, yes, we can and do step in to help out these animals.”
Older animals or those in poor condition can also succumb to the added challenges and stress caused by deep snow. “That’s part of the natural survival-of-the fittest process and is something we can’t change,” Wakeling said.
Wakeling added that many people have probably seen television programs where in other states such as Wyoming and Colorado, they have initiated wildlife feeding programs during severe winters, especially in areas already impacted by drought.
“Keep in mind that such drastic actions are taken because of prolonged winter conditions, especially freezing temperatures that are jeopardizing wildlife populations. Fortunately, that is not the situation we currently face here in Arizona,” Wakeling said.
In fact, supplemental feeding itself takes time to be effective for large ungulates like elk, deer and antelope. “These large animals are what we call ruminants – their digestive systems rely heavily on certain strains of bacteria to aid in the digestive process,” Wakeling explained.
When these animals are provided supplemental food that does not mimic their natural forage, it can take two or three weeks for their digestive system to adapt. “We have learned from mistakes in decades past, such as the 1967 storm. There were times when wild ungulates died from starvation with stomachs full of hay,” Wakeling said.
Wakeling reiterated that department biologists will continue to closely monitor the situation. “This is also the time of year when we do survey flights for deer and elk, which will also aid in our ability to keep abreast of the situation.”
On the bright side, he said, all this precipitation is certainly a blessing to help ease the impacts of drought. “There is indeed a silver lining to all these storm clouds despite the often temporary problems they cause.”
The Arizona Game and Fish Department