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Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


December 14, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana


Isn't this just about the time in the Christmas season when we're still grateful for the names on our gift lists, yet relieved that there aren't many more?

But, how many of us have considered our finned, furred and feathered friends this year?

"Just what I need!" you may be thinking, if you're still with me at all. "I was hoping I could add a few hundred-thousand lives to my list right about now."

Then again, maybe you're not as sarcastic as I am.

The beauty of including wildlife in your Christmas is that they really don't care what's hip and what's not.

There's no need to wrap your gift to wildlife. No need to sandwich yourself in long checkout lines. In fact, it's not necessary to buy a thing.

When it comes to shopping for wildlife, it really is the thought that counts. Here are a few thoughts that might.

1. Respect the winter closure on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range. It may be tempting to sneak in for a photograph of 500 elk, or to see if that big whitetail has shed his antlers yet. But, if you're thinking of wildlife this Christmas, you'll think of how much fat they'll burn in this cold, snowy weather when they run away from you. And, you'll think of how much better off they'd be with that fat in reserve to endure the next blizzard. Especially the calves and fawns. So, you'll give the thoughtful gift of security.

2. When snowmobiling, stay on the trails. There's a lot of discussion these days about whether snowmobiles and packed snowmobile trails are good, bad, or inconsequential for lion, lynx, coyote, wolverine and countless other wildlife. And, there's a lot of uncertainty that has captured considerable research interest. But, one conclusion that always passes the test of common sense is that any detrimental effects of snowmobiles are lessened if activities are confined to established trails. This Christmas, if you're thinking of wildlife, you're thinking that you want to allow them plenty of room to stay out of your way when they need to.

3. Don't feed the deer. For many of us, this is the definition of tough love. Especially when winter sets in at full force, feeding the deer in our backyards seems like the only humane thing to do. But, the side effects can be deadly. The food we provide concentrates deer unnaturally and increases the potential for disease outbreaks. With artificial foods as an attractant, deer never stray very far, which means they overuse and damage natural foods in a wide arc around your feeding stations. Deer may also be attracted to remain in otherwise poor winter habitats and may become isolated by deep snow from better winter ranges where they would have migrated had artificial foods not been available. And, the concentration of deer around your feeder will attract a concentration of predators, which is not good for the deer you intended to save, nor for you or your pets, and ultimately not for the predators themselves. So, if you're really thinking of deer this Christmas, you'll appreciate and respect the natural order of the wild, instead of interrupting it.

4. Leave big dead snags for the dozens of wildlife species that need them. Standing dead trees, particularly ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir and larch, are homes for animals such as pileated woodpeckers and flying squirrels, especially if the trees are larger than 20 inches in diameter. They can also make good firewood, decorative lawn ornaments, and woodcarvings. But, if you're thinking of wildlife, you'll take only the smaller trees for yourself, and leave the big ones for those that depend on our awareness and consideration.

5. Keep your dogs under control at all times, and make sure they are not running loose at night. This is the season when wildlife really can't spare the energy to run long distances ahead of our well-fed, well-conditioned pets. Yes, I know good old Fido doesn't chase deer. But, you need to understand that he doesn't until he has the chance. Then, he almost certainly does. It doesn't make him bad, it just makes him a dog. If we're thinking of wildlife this Christmas, we'll make a conscious effort to control our dogs on hikes and at home, at all times.

This Christmas, I'm thinking of wildlife and I'm thinking of you. That's why I'm going to devote every single hour's worth of my writing energies toward preparation of the draft environmental impact statement for Phase II of the Game Range 50th Anniversary Projectthe proposed land exchange between DNRC and Plum Creek. That means I'll be taking a break from Game Range Ramblings for the next couple of weeks.

So, if I don't see you before then, please accept my wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a happy, wet, New Year!

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