KODIAK — Kodiak Island’s bear population is expected to survive a winter of near-record snow and cold with few problems, but the same might not hold for its deer and goats.
“The critical time is right now,” explained Larry Van Daele, acting regional supervisor and biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Kodiak office.
After a winter in which deer have struggled through drifts and shivered in icy winds, they need good grazing for the calories to stay alive, Van Daele said.
“A fast greenup would help.”
No objective survey of Kodiak’s deer population exists (figures are based on hunting statistics and modeling), but a Fish and Game estimate published in 2011 indicated a population of about 70,000 across the archipelago.
A pilot survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, is expected this summer.
Some deer are killed by each Kodiak winter, but as with population statistics, exact figures are difficult to come by. Carcass surveys are typically taken in the spring by either Fish and Game or Fish and Wildlife.
Until there is good data, said Fish and Wildlife biologist McCrea Cobb, “Any speculation on what’s going to happen is just that — speculation.”
Last week, Van Daele took a survey flight and said the deer he saw “seemed to be in good shape.”
He said he doesn’t expect anything similar to what happened in 1997-1998, when the archipelago experienced a 70 percent dieoff.
Mild winters since then have allowed the population to rebound.
A similar rebound has taken place in the archipelago’s elk population, located mostly on Afognak Island. Twenty elk from a population estimated at 700 have radio collars, and Van Daele said all of those elk are still alive.
While the elk are distant from most Kodiakans, Van Daele said there are things humans can do to help deer pull through the winter.
“As they shift from eating bark to grass, any stress they have now is going to increase mortality,” he said.
Van Daele asked that Kodiakans keep their dogs on short leashes and be careful while driving.
If someone finds a dead deer in their yard or nearby, he advises throwing it in a dumpster as soon as possible. Where there is food, he warned, bears might not be far behind.
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