The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources did a report on how climate change will impact wildlife. As temperatures warm and winters moderate, the report says there will be “winners and losers” among the state’s mammals, reptiles and birds.
How will Wisconsin’s state animal, the whitetail deer, be affected?
Good news: Warmer winters will mean less winter kill and higher reproductive rates for deer in following springs, so herds will build back up and be stable. More deer would mean more tags for hunters.
Not so good news: Climate change is predicted to result in warmer summers, longer dry spells, and more intense rain events: the perfect environment for the midge that transmits epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). The theory is that as this disease moves north, it will not wipe out deer populations, but it will introduce more variability and unpredictability into the herds from year to year in Wisconsin and other northern states. In years of severe outbreaks, the number of deer tags available to hunters would probably be cut.
Also, temperatures 6-8 degrees higher than normal would lead to more ticks, the number one parasite that infests deer in North America. Will parasite load on deer increase with climate change? How might this affect tick-borne diseases in humans?
These are things that bear monitoring because there is no doubt winters have become warmer across North America the last 40 years. But the irony here is that as this report was coming out in 2013, I hunted in Wisconsin and experienced one of my coldest hunts in recent memory. In fact, several straight brutal winters had led to significant deer mortality in many regions of the state.
With all these “yo-yo” falls and winters from year to year (warm then cold, warm then cold…) there is a lot of volatility and room for argument in the climate change debate.