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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

    Arb Notes

    <wy and quite cold these days in the Arb, and not all of the animals are present or active. However, white-tailed deer are as common in the winter as they are in the summer. Deer are browsing ruminants and have a very broad diet – flowers, legumes, young grass, acorns, fruits, some young leaves, and twigs. In the winter, they are forced to paw through the snow to find food or to eat marginal foods such as twigs. For most white-tailed deer in the North, they are on a starvation diet in the winter, losing most of the fat that they have accumulated throughout the year. In southern Minnesota, the deer do quite well on scavenging the leftover ears of corn. This is one of the reasons that there are so many deer in a landscape where native communities have been exterminated and replaced by industrial agriculture.

    A hundred years ago, the area around the Twin Cities was the northern extent of white-tails in this part of the country. However, now they range into northern Minnesota and even southern parts of Manitoba. This is due to two human-induced changes to the landscape: the extermination of large predators and the destruction of native habitats. White-tailed deer are a species that benefits from humans because they do well in fragmented habitats. Deforestation in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin has created spots of deciduous forests, open pastures, and shrubs (i.e. successional forest) across the landscape. Old growth coniferous forests provide little forage for white-tailed deer especially in the winter when they are forced to browse exclusively on conifer branches, which are nutritionally terrible.

    Furthermore, deer are most vulnerable to predation in the winter when they are near starvation. In northern Minnesota, deer yard into a small area of their typical range. In these deer yards, the deer create trails that are packed down. This behavior of clustering into a small area is a direct response to the high wolf predation in the winter. In more southern parts of the state as well as Wisconsin, wolves are absent from the landscape as are black bears and mountain lions. The loss of large predators has allowed the deer population to proliferate across the country. This is not completely accidental; many state land and game management agencies, such as the Minnesota DNR, conducted predator removal programs to increase the deer population for hunting.

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