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The ‘Killer Winter’ That Took A Harsh Toll On America’s Wildlife

Daily Mail

Wildlife suffered higher than normal losses this winter in severe weather across the western United States, where the toll included the deaths of all known fawns in one Wyoming deer herd and dozens of endangered bighorn sheep in California.

In this photo taken Feb. 21, 2017, a group of elk move past another that had died on the National Elk Refuge in northwest Wyoming. This past winter was hard on wildlife in seven western states including Wyoming because of heavy snow and bouts of bitter cold that hit areas where wildlife spend the winter months. Some states have reduced hunting licenses as a result. (Ryan Dorgan/Jackson Hole News & Guide via AP)Wildlife managers in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington also reported higher losses of animals in the wake of one of the coldest and snowiest winters in decades.

Parts of the Rockies saw snowfall as late as mid-June.

‘This year we kind of had all the factors that we don’t want – we had deep snow, we had periods of fairly cold weather, subzero, and then we also had some crusting on top of that snow,’ said Roger Phillips, spokesman for the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

Wildlife managers have been assessing the damage using radio collars and surveys of herds following a winter in which many parts of the West recorded record snowfall, including places where deer, pronghorn antelope and elk migrate each fall to escape the harsher mountain winters.

Prolonged snow cover on winter grounds made it difficult for wildlife to find food, and spells of bitter cold made matters worse for the weakened animals by hardening the snow.

Mule deer in several Rocky Mountain states and elk in eastern Washington were hit hard.

Wyoming was expecting above-normal losses among antelope as well, although it didn’t have an accurate accounting yet.

Wyoming last saw comparable wildlife deaths over three decades ago, said Bob Lanka, supervisor of statewide wildlife and habitat management program with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

‘It’s been a long, long time since we experienced this kind of loss,’ he said.

Meteorologist David Lipson of the National Weather Service in Riverton blamed the rough winter on ‘unusually strong rivers of moisture’ flowing into the West from the Pacific Ocean, where a weak and unusually short-lived La Nina occurred.

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