Wallowa County citizens are aware of the devastating impact of the winter on power bills, buildings and roof collapses from excess snow, frozen pipes, buckling and unplowed roads and other cold weather problems. One thing that may not immediately spring to mind is the fate of wildlife.
While farm animals may have a tough time during the winter, wild animals don’t have the luxury of regular meals. Pat Matthews of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that some wildlife is suffering, while others will prosper.
“It’s certainly going to benefit fish, and depending on the spring, it could be beneficial for forage growth and that sort of thing,” Matthews said.
The deer population is already severely affected by the weather according to Matthews. “We’re certainly losing deer; and we’re going to continue losing deer. Both white tail and mule deer populations will be dropping some this winter, but for those who survive it might be positive anyway,” he said.
The ODFW has radio collared mule deer populations. “We’re doing movement studies on them, and we’ve lost some of those deer as well. It’s one of those things, but it also gives us good information about the rate of mortality and that sort of thing. It’s all a part of population management.”
It’s too early to tell to make any generalizations about water supply for the upcoming spring and summer, Matthews added. But he suspects that some deer will be in such poor shape by the end of winter that will never recover from its effects.
The winter has led to an increase of calls about deer in county towns as well as ranchers’ calls about deer in their haystacks.
Out on the farm
“It’s affected my attitude,” local goat rancher Wendy McCullough said of the winter. McCullough ranches in the shelter of Mt. Joseph, which protects her livestock and home from the worst of inclement weather.
She normally feeds her goats about 20 tons of hay per year and doesn’t expect to exceed that amount by an appreciable margin. She also went through the birthing season in the mildest part of the month of January. “I was lucky. I won’t say it was planned parenthood,” McCullough said with a laugh.
McCullough, who grew up in Wallowa County, said this reminded her of winters from the 1960s. “We were like this every winter. I remember one December it was below zero for the whole month. This is a little extreme compared to what we’ve been spoiled with, but it’s just like it used to be. This is reality – it’s what I grew up with,” she said.