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Habitat

This is another of my recent articles in Ontario Out of Doors magazine. As per my practice, this is an unedited version.

Owning land where one of the main objectives is to manage it for wildlife is widespread in some places around the world, but not so much in Canada. In parts of Texas and the American west, large tracts of private land are for wildlife – and hunting – often combined with ranching. In parts of Africa, particularly in the south, huge chunks of land  are managed for wildlife – and hunting – again, often combined with ranching. 

Looking after our 200+ acres is really nothing like being in charge of tens of thousands of acres, but it’s something. 

One more thing. The office locations, addresses and suggested links were at one time all valid, but things change quickly these days so some of the information in the article may no longer be correct or valid.

 

Growing up, I always thought it would be great to own a big chunk of undeveloped land. My grandfather lived on what was once farmland outside Sudbury near the hamlet of Wahnapitae, a haven with a beaver pond to hunt ducks on and a woodlot where I could chase snowshoe hares and ruffed grouse. From a very young age, acquiring land was high on my wish list.

Life may get in the way of dreams, but dreams never die. Finally, when I was about 40 years old, Lil and I bought a long abandoned homestead. A few years later, we built a house and started our country life.

One of the main reasons we wanted to live in the country, on our own land, was to manage it for wildlife. Lil also needed space to accommodate her needs associated with being a wildlife rehabilitator – it can be awkward looking after loud and squawking injured critters in the suburbs.

We knew what we wanted to do, but needed direction to be in compliance with pertinent laws and regulations. The Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP) provided that direction.

The MFTIP was a good fit because it could be used specifically to manage private lands for wildlife and also “offer a reduction in property taxes to landowners of forest land who prepare a plan and agree to be good stewards of their property”.

To qualify for enrollment in MFTIP, there must be > 4 ha (9.99 ac) of forest land owned by a Canadian citizen or resident who has a commitment to good land stewardship. Then a stewardship plan has to be prepared and subsequently approved by a Managed Forest Plan Approver.

I have to admit the preparation and writing of a stewardship plan for our property was a lot more difficult than we had surmised, despite the fact both Lil and I had degrees in Biology and had written numerous articles, papers and plans. My friend Brian Hutchinson – a Parks Canada biologist – expressed similar sentiments when he wrote a plan for his property near Ottawa.

A major tenet for the plan is a requirement to identify general property objectives – improving wildlife habitat was one of ours – and how to achieve those objectives.

The plan requires maps showing the location of the property and the surrounding area, the location of buildings, roads, trails, hydro lines, etc., and property ‘compartments’.

Compartments are areas with similar vegetation, topography and soils. For example, on 232 acres we have a bog, a marsh, mix-woods of deciduous and conifer trees, as well as rocky, thin soiled hills of mostly jack pine. With the help of aerial photography, we identified and mapped more than a dozen compartments.

For each compartment, forms have to be completed that identify general characteristics pertaining to soils and drainage and provide specific details on vegetation and forest cover (e.g., shrubs present, tree species and their abundance). There is also a section on history of the compartment, where things like past logging or grazing by cattle is included.

And that’s only a fraction of what the stewardship plan requires – one onerous requirement is a schedule of planned activities for each compartment for 10 years, as well as keeping a record of activities actually carried out.

Lists of animals, fish, insects, rare plants as well as habitat features (e.g., snags, dens, wildlife trails) also have to be prepared.

Writing a stewardship plan is a lot of hard work – but it certainly made us focus on how, specifically, we could achieve our goals and objectives.

Some of Our Stewardship Plan Activities

  • Annually mow, or burn, our old field and hay marsh compartments to arrest forest encroachment.
  • Harvest 80 acres to remove over-mature aspen.
  • Plant white and black spruce, white pine and red pine on appropriate sites.
  • Erect nesting boxes for wood ducks, bluebirds, tree swallows and owls.
  • Build and maintain walking/hiking trails.
  • Maintain brush piles as wildlife cover.

There’s a myriad of other things we’ve done and plan to do on the property, including – with the help of some of Lil’s rehabilitated and released beavers – build and maintain a pond in front of the house. It’s almost unbelievable the amount and diversity of wildlife associated with our pond. In the spring, the cacophony of singing frogs and toads is so loud we have to shut the door to talk on the phone or listen to the TV.

Oh, and yes, hunting activities, including planting food plots, are perfectly acceptable as goals and objectives in an MFTIP. We enjoy hunting ruffed grouse and deer on our property.

Despite what I believe is needless complexity, the MFTIP is a good way for property owners to enhance wildlife values, while simultaneously reducing the tax burden.

MFTIP Details

In brief, it’s a 10 yr program. Eligible land is taxed at 25% of the municipal tax rate set for residential properties. After the plan has ended, a new plan for a further 10 year period can be submitted.

For information contact:

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program

300 Water Street, Peterborough, ON K9J 8M5

The MFTIP website is ontario.ca/MFTIP; for info, call toll free 1-855-866-3847, or email MFTIP@ontario.ca .

You can also call, toll free 1-866-296-6722, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, web is www.mpac.ca.

Other Programs for Rural Landowners

There are various stewardship councils in much of southern/central Ontario that can be consulted to help one manage wildlife and natural resource habitats. Visit www.ontariostewardship.org.

If you are interested in planting trees, visit www.treesontario.ca.

If MNRF has identified natural heritage features on your land, you may be eligible for property tax exemptions. Call 1-800-268-8959; your local MNRF office; visit the website Ontario.ca/CLTIP or email cltip@ontario.ca.

 

 

Spotting Bushbuck: there’s one inside the circle I’ve drawn on one of the photos. It’s a bit more visible in the blow-up photo. Kudu were everywhere. Note the sharp horns on the Bushbuck! Rocky was quite pleased with himself following the chase and fight.

I recently returned from another fabulous trip to Africa. Like last time, this was a two-legged journey – but this time, our first stop was in South Africa.

In South Africa, Drew, Brian and I stayed with Game4Africa (https://www.game4africa.co.za/), owned and operated by the Coetzee Brothers, Wikus and Colin. We were in the region known as the Eastern Cape, an area well-known for it abundance of game, particularly Kudu (the best chance of getting a Kudu anywhere in Africa, according to the Wik and Colin).

For Drew and I, the focus was Bushbuck.

The Cape Bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) or more commonly, the Bushbuck, is a smallish antelope with large males weighing slightly more than 50 kg. Females are smaller and don’t have horns.

Bushbuck, are one of the four African antelope with twisted horns, the others being the Kudu, Eland and Nyala. Although it’s the smallest antelope of the group, the Bushbuck has a well-deserved reputation for having a nasty temperament. They will turn on and fight predators – including human hunters – when wounded and cornered. The horns are very sharp.

On day one, Brian and I hunted with Colin close to the main lodge, while Drew went further afield with Wik. Colin, Brian and I scanned heavy cover in steep hill country, but had no luck in seeing our main quarry. Before the morning was over, though, we had word that Wik and Drew had been successful and Drew had shot a very nice Bushbuck.

For day two, the decision was to head back to the general area where Drew had been successful the first morning. The morning was cool and in the hills, there was a stiff breeze. Despite having donned a heavy shirt, a fleece-lined hoodie and warm gloves, it was hard to keep comfortable. Scanning the hillsides hundreds of meters distant through binoculars was tasking, as my eyes kept watering and smearing my glasses.

Finally, after what seemed like a couple of hours, someone, Wik or Drew, spotted and Bushbuck and Wik said we’d have to try and make our was down the hillside to get within range to try for a shot.

What a climb (down)! We wound our way down on game trails a couple of hundred meters; often we seemed to be going almost straight down and it took quite the effort to keep balance and not fall head-over-heels down the ravine. I was thankful for my good boots and their solid grip, and the thought that I’d have been snookered if I’d opted to bring the other pair of hunting boots I had contemplated bringing, kept popping up in my mind.

Finally, we found ourselves on a bit of an opening with the Bushbuck still way below us. Wik asked me if I could see it and through the binos, I could. I had difficulty locating it through the scope, though, and then couldn’t keep steady on the steep slope. Wik did some speedy adjustments and we found a way for me to sit down and just as the Bushbuck took a step and was about to disappear under the canopy, I squeezed off a shot. There was a solid ‘thwack’ and the Bushbuck was gone.

“Two hundred and 30 meters. Good Shot!” said Wik.

Wik radioed for his tracker and his dog Rocky, a solidly built Jack Russel Terrier. Apparently, Jack Russel’s are favoured by many African hunters in tracking down antelope and have a reputation as being the breed to deal with Bushbuck.

It took a while, but eventually Wik’s tracker, carrying Rocky, found us. Wik pointed out where we had last seen the Bushbuck and down the ravine the tracker went, still carrying compliant little Rocky under his arm.

At some point we started following. We saw the tracker get to the spot where the Bushbuck had been shot and he let Rocky go.

Almost immediately Rocky started barking and growling and we could heard barks and grunts from the Bushbuck as well. We couldn’t see either Rocky or the Bushbuck, but did catch glimpses of the tracker running about in circles, apparently trying to get to the Bushbuck and dispatch it, which, eventually, he did.

“It’s over!” said Wik.

We got down to the Bushbuck, the tracker and Rocky, who was splattered in blood and seemed to be very pleased with himself.

The Bushbuck was a magnificent animal with long, sharp, heavy horns. Apparently, it was a once-in-a-lifetime Bushbuck. Actually, it was quite similar to the one Drew had taken the day before, the main difference being mine was slightly wider.

Bushbuck can be quite common, but are often found where cover is thick and the terrain steep (like where we were), which can make for tough hunting. Wik and Colin thought we did well in part because of the weather (cold nights, sunny mornings) and the lack of a moon during the night. This resulted in the animals being more apt to be in openings than the norm.

Drew attributed our success to us being great hunters (sarc!).

Two great Bushbucks in two days. Thanks Wik!

And thanks especially to Rocky!

When I began to write this, on April 8, 2019, the temperature outside was hovering just above the freezing mark and it had just begun a rain/snow mix. Snow still carpeted the ground, although there were bare patches under some of the conifers and on some south facing slopes. The ponds and lakes were still ice-locked, except where there’s current.

Now, three days later, not much has changed, except it’s clear and cold (-60 C this morning), rather than overcast with snow and rain.

Two geese showed up on the pond on April 5th and hung out most of the day, before leaving, but they have since returned, at least once. Last year, geese arrived on the pond the same date. I suspect these early arrivals are to do with claiming the pond as their own in an effort to build a nest and raise some young, something that has been a failure on this pond two years running. Maybe this year will be different and both geese and ducks can successfully hatch and rear some progeny.

The wolves whittled the deer down again this winter, but there are still a few around. The deer population, overall, is a shadow of what it was about 10 years ago and seems to still be on a downward trajectory. As I’ve said before, I don’t think deer herds here will recover until the next spruce budworm epidemic is well underway, something that as far as I know, hasn’t even started yet. Interestingly, I did see a deer chewing on some lichens the other day, but like deer, lichen abundance is minimal.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation to the Canadian Institute of Forestry, Lake of the Woods Chapter, on Moose Emphasis Areas, or MEAs. Basically, MEAs are large patches of forest – e.g., 5-10 thousand hectares – where the forest managers try to coordinate the creation and maintenance of good to excellent moose habitat when carrying out forest operations, namely harvesting, renewal and maintenance of wood fibre. Dr. Vince Crichton – Doc Moose – gave a presentation on moose and moose management in general, and there were two other presentations by District Biologists as to how MEAs were actually being implemented in approved forest management plans.

I think there was a general consensus that good moose habitat is a key component of managing moose, but other factors, including predation, disease and human harvest, are also important. Unfortunately, all factors, not just moose habitat, are difficult to control.

For example, starting with moose habitat, successful planning and implementing MEAs require a skillful planning team. But that alone is not enough, as public input needs to be accommodated. In many areas, the benefits of MEAs might not be realized without restrictions on road access (you need roads to practice forestry, but roads also provide access to human hunters and other predators).Meaningful restrictions on road access can be difficult if not impossible, because the public simply won’t accept them.

And good habitat, even with road restrictions, might not be enough. Sometimes, predators can suppress prey (e.g., moose) populations – which in some circumstances might warrant predator control. But these days, any talk of predator control seems to be met with a great deal of derision. Governments everywhere – certainly here in Ontario – have pretty much tossed the option of predator control aside.

There’s not much that can be done about disease, but at least there have been, in this part of the country, harsher, more snowy winters of late, which has reduced (a) deer populations, which in turn has reduced the incidence of brain worm, a major moose killer, and (b) moose tick abundance. Moose ticks thrive when winters are short, but take a hit from early and late snow cover (moose die-offs from severe moose tick infestations are fairly common in some areas). Fewer deer also mean fewer wolves, so again, that’s a good thing. Bears are another story.

Human harvest can be controlled to some degree, but again, there are issues that probably should be addressed, but can’t, or aren’t. These include:

(a) there is little control over harvest by Aboriginals and Métis, who do not require licences to hunt and are generally not subject to road use restrictions. Some Aboriginal and Métis groups and communities have voluntarily agreed to moose harvest limits, but there are no enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance.

(b) despite reductions in the number of adult tags available to licenced hunters in many Wildlife Management Units (e.g., in WMU 6 there was a single bull tag issued last year – to me – and I didn’t fill it), there is still an unrestricted, two week hunt for calf moose. That means anyone with a moose licence can hunt and harvest (one) calf moose in any WMU during the ‘open’ calf season.

(c) there seems to be a mis-guided desire to have a bull:cow ratio close to 50:50. Doc Moose presented evidence that bulls can be substantially fewer in number than cows and still ‘get the job done’. It seems patently ridiculous to lower the number of bull tags and increase the number of cow tags, especially in WMUs where moose are declining and below population targets.

(d) there is also evidence that shows younger bulls are less effective breeders than older bulls, yet in Ontario, there are no restrictions on what kind of bull a hunter can harvest with a bull tag. Cows are less responsive to the clumsier wooing of young bulls as compared to mature bulls and young bulls have both lower sperm counts and lower sperm quality, making conception less likely. In addition, in many WMUs, there has been a tendency to have an early bow season, to allow hunters to call in a bull to the close range a bow hunter requires. As such, bulls are harvested before or during the peak of the rut. Fewer old bulls and harvesting bulls immediately before or during the rut might still let all the cows be bred – at least in those WMUs with a reasonable moose population –  but breeding might not be concentrated during the prime estrus, around the end of September. As a result, calving can be spread out over a longer period the following spring, making it easier for predators that specialize in taking young calves (i.e., wolves and large bears), thus reducing recruitment.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to moose management is cultural. In Ontario, moose management is not the pressing issue it used to be for the government, replaced with concerns such as the plight of species at risk and a desire to deal with climate change hysteria. The perceived indifference to moose by the government is exacerbated by the fact that many hunters have little faith in government actions or policies, resulting in a ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude. So poaching and a general disregard for rules have, in my opinion, increased (and I’m far from alone in believing that).

While I’m not completely convinced things can’t be turned around, I’m not in the habit of looking at things through rose-coloured glasses, either. The problems are huge and not easily addressed.

MAFA2

Still, outside of moose (and deer) world, life is not all bad.  Spring is in the air, or at least it should be over the coming weeks. I do look forward to the return of the migratory birds and seeing the return of the colour green.

Plus many a BBQ, with a cold beverage in hand, are looming in my future. And that’s a very good thing.

 

A couple of postings back (https://wildlifeperspectives.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/its-piling-up/), I wrote that the snow was beginning to pile up. After that post, it really piled up!

In Kenora, February has so far been the snowiest month of the 2018-19 winter, with a whopping 70.8 cm of the white stuff hitting the ground. Kenora’s normal snowfall for February is 18.6 cm, which means the snowfall for the month was 381% higher than normal.

Obviously, that’s unusual. Up until the end of January, it looked like it was going to be a relatively good winter for the local deer herd, with only about a 30% chance the winter would wind-up being classified as ‘severe’ (based on winter severity indices predictions used by provincial deer managers).

Of course, the only way it could become ‘severe’, was if it snowed a lot and the snow stayed on the ground. Well it did, and so far it has. If you had bet on the odds, you’d have lost.

The last day Kenora had that was above the freezing mark was January 4, when the temperature climbed to a miserly high of 10 C. No melting at all after that and none predicted until March 11, when the temperature is predicted to hit a high of zero.

Right now, the snow depth around my house in poplar stands (which is the kind of forest where snow stations are located to assess winter severity) is 60 cm or more; 50 cm is the threshold that most agree puts deer are in trouble. Fifty cm is about the height of a deer leg, which means more than 50 cm and deer are plowing snow with their chest, which is what I’ve been seeing.

There’s also a rule of thumb that says if you have 50 cm on the ground for 50 days, a lot of deer will perish and does that do survive, will have many stillborn fawns.

How long snow cover lingers will be critical for the deer. The weather forecasters are predicting a big change in weather patterns sometime after the middle of March – much milder temperatures – but if it keeps snowing, and it doesn’t have to snow a lot, there could easily still be snow on the ground into late April.

The deer I see around our house are staying under conifer cover when they can because the snow is not near as deep there. But, there’s not much food under the conifers, either.

In the City of Kenora, the deer are running around on the railway, cleared streets and sidewalks, looking for food, especially handouts. They’ve pretty much eaten all the available browse and what’s left is mostly inaccessible because of the deep snow. It’s illegal to feed deer within city limits – according to the bylaws – but lots of people are ignoring those laws and there is next to nothing being done by way of enforcement. I guess that’s good for the deer; if it weren’t for handouts, the city deer would more than likely be starving.

Deer are adaptable animals. Interestingly, I think these urban deer – a relatively new phenomenon in northwestern Ontario (although Sioux Narrows, about 100 km south of Kenora, has had an ‘urban’ deer population for many decades), will probably be what lets the deer herd recover in future years – at a much faster rate than otherwise would be expected. That’s if the near future sees a series of low-snow winters.

History would suggest there will be those less severe, low snow winters and that deer herds will recover.

On the other hand, deer were mostly absent from northwestern Ontario in the 1800’s. Since there’s no predicting the future – although everyone likes to do that – all we can really do is wait and see how the future actually unfolds.

One thing I can predict with near certainty is that the 2019 deer hunting season in the Kenora area will be rather unspectacular, at best.

I remain hopeful it won’t be a complete washout.

My brother sent me a photo of his woodpile – Jan. 26, 2019 – see his photo in the bottom line of photos. He lives on the French River, south of Sudbury. Lots of snow there, more on the way. The other photos are some I’ve taken over the years; bottom right shows a very poor condition deer after a long, cold snowy winter, same as the large photo in the top left.

With the recent spate of snow and cold, I looked at an article I wrote for Ontario Out of Doors magazine in late 2017 and decided to post it on my blog. So although it’s a year old, the information remains relevant. Given that snow this winter has come late, deer might still have a good go of getting through the winter, but, maybe not. Rule of thumb says 50 cm of snow on the ground for over 50 consecutive days, deer mortality from the rigors of winter spikes. Which means it all depends on how long winter lingers. Last winter, it lingered, and deer numbers in much of northern Ontario, especially in the north-west, where I live, took a hit. Again. Over the past 6 or 7 years, there have been several hits.

I don’t think this year in the north-west will be particularly hard on deer, but weather is only one factor, as wolves are licking up the remaining pockets of deer. Outside of Thunder Bay and the smaller cities – all of which now have urban deer herds – deer are not doing well. I don’t think deer will do well until we get another spruce budworm outbreak, which is still a few years off (see my posts on lichens for an explanation and the relationship between deer numbers and arboreal lichens in northern forests).

BTW, I grew up in Sudbury and there were very few deer there in my childhood. There still is not a lot. Most years, the Sudbury area gets a lot of snow. Lots of snow during most years does not make for a healthy herd of deer.

Hope you like the article.

Snow, the Silent Killer

Pat Karns, a respected and well-liked biologist stationed in Minnesota, years ago called winter ‘the Grim Reaper’. He made the case that cold, snowy winters are a primary driver behind deer population fluctuations in the northern forested areas of the USA and Canada. When it was cold and snowy and the winter long, deer might die in droves. Karns made those observations decades ago, but it’s still true today. Deer – and other birds and animals – have evolved to cope with cold and snow, but a severe winter will have consequences. While there are management options available to help wildlife populations get through winter, there’s only so much that can be done. Snow can be a deadly killer, and Ontario gets snow. Some years, Ontario gets a lot of snow.

Wildlife managers in provinces and states where snow and cold are prominent aspects of the weather calculate estimates of winter severity, including input to models used to manage the deer harvest. For example, winter severity is included in the annual calculation of the number of antlerless deer tags and additional seals issued.

Scientists, biologists and other researchers have a long history of looking at the effects of winter on wildlife. Americans like Louis Verm and John Ozoga were winter and snow severity pioneers, but Ontarians like Robin Hepburn and Dennis Voight were also instrumental in devising methods that gave us winter severity indices that agencies like the MNRF use to assess winters impact. Dependent upon the system used, deer managers generally categorize winters as mild, moderate or severe. Sometimes very bad winters are called ‘extreme’.

Whatever system is used, the value generated to categorize winter severity is typically a combination of snow, temperature and time. In Ontario, the system commonly used is called the Snow Depth Index (SDI). To calculate SDI, a snow course – a forested site where snow depth is measured in cm at 10 stations over the duration of the winter – must be maintained. An SDI is obtained from each snow course from the weekly, average, snow depth measurement; the over-winter SDI is the cumulative total of the weekly average snow depth readings.

Ontario has maintained snow courses since 1952. In most years, dozens of snow courses are run, mostly across the deer range of northern and southern Ontario.

To assess winter severity, MNRF usually looks at a number of snow courses in a particular area. When averaged together, a value of <590 is indicative of a mild winter; 591-760 is moderate and >760 is severe. Severity can vary across the province.

Once a winter has been categorized, values pertaining to recruitment and mortality can be estimated. In Ontario, SDI suggests >40% of the fawns would be lost at birth following a severe winter.

During a severe winter, deer can also die of starvation, exhaustion or succumb to high levels of predation and might result in a loss of ½ the herd. A series of severe winters can reduce deer numbers by as much as 80%.

Mark Ryckman, Senior Wildlife Biologist with OFAH, said “Parts of Ontario experienced back-to-back severe winters beginning in December 2013. We’re just now starting to see deer populations bounce back.”

Other winter severity indices that have been used in Ontario include the Passmore Snow Severity Index and the Ontario Winter Severity Index. In the Great Lake States region, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota each use unique, but similar winter severity indices; all indices are based on field measurements of snow and temperature over time.

SDI is a simple yet effective way to measure winter severity despite the fact it doesn’t measure snow crusting (and whether deer can walk on or break through it) or use any measures of temperature or wind. These factors can be of note – it’s obvious deer will benefit by  walking on snow rather than breaking through or wading through it to get to food – and a pleasant winter day of mild temperatures, sun and no wind is no doubt preferable to overcast, cold and windy weather; all factors some other indices incorporate.

The reason SDi is so effective is that while it focuses on snow, it indirectly is incorporates other factors. For one, if there’s not much snow on the ground, cold isn’t a big factor, as deer can easily access food. If there is a lot of snow, but it doesn’t cover the ground for months on end, most deer – and their unborn fawns – can survive. But for lots of snow to stick around, there needs to be extended periods of cold (that keeps snow from melting) and extended snow cover keeps deer off their best foods (generally small plants in fields and on the forest floor), with or without a crust. So the bottom line is that a long period of more or less continuous snow cover is indicative the winter was long, cold and snowy.

SDI provides information that’s invaluable to Ontario’s deer managers, but it can also be used to assess the impacts of winter on other species, including moose and turkeys.  Although moose are huge, they do run into trouble when snow depths of around 100 cm exist for several weeks, which isn’t that unusual in the vicinity of the Clay Belt and other areas north of Lake Superior. In the south, turkeys kept from foraging in open fields or the forest floor for long periods because of continuous snow cover can experience high levels of mortality.

Snow. It really is the silent killer.

Most fires burn the forest in a patchy manner. New growth sprouts quickly after a fire; species like moose fare well in the aftermath of fire. Kenora District is in Northwestern Ontario, a place where fires are omnipresent.

It’s September and nearing the end of what’s been a hot summer in much of the northern hemisphere. A hot summer, with lots of fires, almost everywhere. Because of climate change, the prediction is that the future will bring more of the same. Talking about climate change, at least here in Canada, seems to always be top of mind.

Most of the mainstream reporting on how to prevent a future of more fires appears to be concentrating on fighting climate change. I have seen a few reports suggesting we need to do a better job of planning and prevention, but such reporting is the exception, not the norm.

However, the way I see it, addressing fire management by trying to change the climate is largely a waste of effort, time and money.

We know there’s always been fire and there always will be fire. And everyone agrees that fire is a major force that needs to be reckoned with. But figuratively and literally, we can’t put out every fire.

With respect to wildfires, what I think we need to do is a much better job of integrating fire into land management actions; not an easy task, as everyone is afraid of fire, for very good reasons. I live in the woods so I’m well aware of the fire danger.

Regardless, it’s too bad in all the attention the fires have been getting there’s been very little information on how the fires will change the landscape in their aftermath, or on trying to explain the role of fire in ecosystems. Some of the recent wildfires that I’ve cursorily examined here in Ontario will very likely quickly improve habitat conditions for big game like moose and elk; the impacts on caribou, a species at risk, are more difficult to assess. But in the long run, fire is also good for caribou.

In British Columbia, I suspect some of the fires are burning through beetle infested forests – which could also be forests with tremendous potential to grow big game – but those are items I’m not hearing much about. The reporting is all about the extent of the fires, how much they are costing and the dangers to humans and our structures. And, how it’s all related to climate change.

One message that gets the short-shrift is that most of the areas where these fires are burning – again, almost everywhere in the world – are fire-dominated ecosystems. For example, boreal forests across much of Canada are typified by trees like jack pine, black spruce and aspen. These tree species dominate the boreal forest landscape because their rejuvenation depends on fires. The boreal forest is always burning up. If it ever stopped burning, it would soon begin to look very, very different.

Regardless of what we do we are going to continue to see wildfires; some years will be more an inferno than others.  Despite the fear and real dangers fires present, fire is actually a good thing; if fires were eliminated from the landscape, the environmental impacts could be great.

Fires renew the forest (many trees and shrubs regenerate best in the aftermath of fire) and many species of wildlife depend on young forests for their survival. Eliminating fire would risk putting many species in danger of extinction. Fires also help cleanse the landscape of disease and pestilence (ticks and pine beetle come to mind, but there’s a lot more).

Anyway, it’s impossible to eliminate all fires. And to repeat, it’s not even desirable.

What we can, and should do, is do a better job of managing for fires – growing fire-resistant forests adjacent to towns and cities would be a good start.

Just blaming climate change is…stupid.

The fawn flees for its life; days later, re-united.

The wolf situation continues to vex me.

Looking back, the general consensus is that white-tailed deer populations peaked in this area in or about 2007. They didn’t crash that year – the crash came a few years later, about 2014.

Regardless, since 2007, the numbers of deer have come down a lot.

There are still deer around. Some pockets with reasonably robust numbers can still be found. But there are large acreages where deer are gone where they were once abundant. Whether you’re out on the land, out on a ride, or hunting, you don’t see deer like you used to.

The numbers on our property are not particularly robust. Part of the issue is the fact that there seems to be as many wolves hunting our land as there were in 2007, when deer seemed to be as abundant as a plague of mice.

To wit; the other morning, Lil came into the house saying something big was splashing about in the waters of the beaver pond to the left of the house.

Looking out from off the deck to look for the sounds of the splashings, a fawn soon appeared, swimming frantically.

We suspected it was fleeing for its life, being chased by wolves. We’d seen that scene before.

We watched the small spotted deer swim the length of the pond, then scramble out the far end and race into the cover on the edge of a field. We didn’t see any wolves.

We had a small task to do outside, which took only a couple of minutes. On a hunch, I walked down our laneway to the field, to see if the deer, or the wolves, or whatever, might be there.

Still in the laneway, I stopped near a small building and looked over the field. Nothing. I scanned the length and breadth of the small field again (it’s only about 3 acres) when suddenly, right there in front of me, right in the open, were two timber wolves. It was if they had materialized out of thin air; regardless, there they were. They were big and they were thirty yards in front of me.

I raised both my hands, which caught their attention and then yelled at them to “Go on, get out of here!” Which, quite promptly, they did. In an instant, they were gone.

There was no sign of the fawn.

Over the next couple of days, from the house, I watched a doe, a couple of times, move slowly along an edge of the pond, feeding, standing, looking around, all alone. I also saw, briefly, a pair of young does, but no evidence of a fawn. We feared the worst.

Then on the 4th morning after the fawn swimming, wolf encounter drama, a doe and fawn showed up on the far side of the pond, on a smooth rock opening across from where we watched the fawn during her escape run. We’re pretty sure it was the same fawn, as all spring and summer we had seen only a single fawn anywhere near the house. The fawn had always been near the pond, on the west half of the pond, which is where the doe and fawn were. The pair stayed close together for well over an hour; perhaps they were re-bonding after the recent close encounter of the worst kind – the doe spent a lot of time licking and grooming the fawn.

The literature is quite clear that on northern ranges, where the main deer predator is the timber wolf, high deer numbers only occur when good habitat and mild winters occur simultaneously over a period of several years (e.g 10+). However, high deer abundance cannot be sustained over the long-term; eventually the population crashes, usually in the aftermath of the return of a series of severe winters and deteriorating habitat quality. The rapid decline, or crash, is abetted by heavy levels of wolf predation.

Wolf predation continues to depress the deer population and can be quite effective at preventing its recovery. The deer herd can dwindle to become next to nothing; if there is nothing else to eat (i.e., no moose or elk or caribou) wolf numbers too, will inevitably crash.

How long that scenario plays out can vary, but may take several years. For deer to make a meaningful recovery wolf numbers need to go down and environmental conditions need to improve. Where I live, neither of these have to date occurred (the winters since 2014 have mostly been categorized as moderate to severe by natural resource officials). In addition, there are few moose, deer or caribou in the area, so the wolves are definitely running out of things to eat.

Perhaps they are eating bears, which is a distinct possibility.

Until the last 15 years or so, I’d go years between wolf sightings. Now, I seldom go a month without seeing a wolf, or wolves.

I don’t hate wolves and as a retired wildlife biologist I understand wolves are important in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

But in some areas, at times, there can be too many wolves.

I think we need more honest discussion on how to do a better job of managing wolves. For one, I think many of the present policies and legislation that pertain to how wolves are to be managed need improvements.

At this point in time, fewer wolves in the region where I live and play would, I believe, be a good thing. But any suggestion that perhaps we should be actively managing for fewer wolves (or bears) is met by an attitude by many that borders on derision.

Fewer wolves (and bears) now would lead to more deer and moose and would also benefit the wolves themselves. Right now, there seems to me to be a serious imbalance between predator and prey, a situation that simply can’t last. But who knows?

Like Yogi Berra might have said, ‘it’s hard to predict the future, because it hasn’t happened yet’.