Southern Utah News Articles
A stressful season for wildlife
At last, finally some snow! Hopefully, the situation for our wildlife has changed for the better. So what has been the problem? Without storms, there is no snow and no water in many areas. Has there ever been such a dry fall as we have experienced this year? Not since I moved here in 1968.
The situation has been a real concern in many areas. The available plant forage has been great. However, food without water is of little value for most critters.
Normally, deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, turkeys, and most all other species of wildlife, have open water areas, or as cold weather sets in, they at least have snow to nibble on and supply their water needs.
Not this year! In most all of Southern Utah, with the exception of a few north slopes on the highest mountain peaks, there has not been a speck of snow.
The problem got much worse the last couple of weeks as temperatures dropped to nearly zero, or below, in many areas. The few ponds, water developments (guzzlers), or seeps that remained, froze solid. Only hard ice was available. A creek or another viable water source may be quite some distance, and perhaps, completely out of the open treeless habitat necessary for some species, such as sage grouse and pronghorns.
The Sage Hen Hollow area, south of Panguitch towards Hatch, is a prime example. A similar critical area is the Dog Valley area, north of Panguitch.
The pronghorns, sage grouse, deer, and all other critters that usually can survive with snow, only had the small frozen ponds or the solid frozen ice in the drinker troughs of water catchments that were built to catch rain and to provide water during the dry periods of the year.
In my observations, herds of pronghorns and flocks of sage grouse were continually hanging out on the ponds or drinkers. They seemed to spend much of their time licking, pawing, scratching, or pecking at the ice, attempting to get a bit of liquid to drink. Most of the time, they had no success getting any liquid.
Many other areas of Garfield, Kane, and Wayne Counties have had the same problem, no liquid water or snow, just hard frozen ice.
The concern was, and may still be, did some of the wildlife succumb to the lack of available moisture?
This extreme dry fall situation has never happened to this extent in my lifetime of working with wildlife, so I don’t know for sure, but it is a real concern. In reality, not much can be done. I busted up the ice in some guzzler drinkers on several occasions, but within a day or so, the cold temperatures would again freeze the ice solid.
My suggestion is try not to disturb the wildlife, as much as possible. No doubt, they have already experienced enough stress. Hopefully, the storm last week was enough to change the situation. For now, we can only hope.