OUTDOORS: Cautiously Optimistic is the Word for Upcoming Deer Season
By: JOHN FLORES
By early May, it became apparent that 2011 would become the year of the “Great Flood” and rival 1973, when floodwaters in Morgan City reached a record 10.53 feet. From Simmesport, Krotz Springs, Butte LaRose to Morgan City, Stephensville and Amelia downward, people along the river braced and prepared for the worst.
Meanwhile, at the same time, much of Louisiana was in drought conditions, with some regions receiving little precipitation throughout the spring on into the summer months. By the end of June meteorologist pointed out that the first six months of the year in Louisiana were the driest on record. And, it wasn’t until August and September where relief came in a big way across the state with Tropical Storm Lee.
What impact these two events have on the upcoming deer season may not be noticeable this season, as both events tend to have longer-term repercussions effecting future populations.
Recruitment is important for long-term stability of any deer herd. When younger deer have an increase in mortality, where fawns would become 1½ year old does that would breed the following year, the result becomes more noticeable in a given population.
Scott Durham, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Deer Study Leader said, “In the short run the drought conditions are probably going to impact possibly the growth and development of antlers this year. For sure it’s no help. June, July and August are your primary growing months. It had been really dry and that probably impacted milk production, where fawns could be a little light and recruitment could be a little off in the future. So, I look for the environmental condition to have had a little bit of a negative impact, but nothing that should devastate anything.”
When the Morganza Spillway’s gates were opened and much of the Atchafalaya Basin was flooded, the goal of the Corp of Engineers working closely with the LDWF was to open the spillway at a relatively low rate. The goal according to officials was to prevent water to rise no more than a one foot per 24-hours to allow an opportunity for animals to move out to higher ground.
Numerous images were seen nightly on the news, of deer plunging through knee-deep water in agricultural fields trying to reach higher ground along the vast levee system. Moreover, most of the deer displaced in the basin hadn’t fawned yet as July and early August are the primary months deer give birth in the region.
“I don’t know if high water had an impact on Terrebonne Parish or anything outside the protection levee in St. Mary,” Durham said. “The deer in the lower basin came out of there before the water got too high. They may have competed a little for resources maybe local deer normally wouldn’t have had to quite deal with. But, if those deer ended up fawning in new territory that’s not normal range, then we look for greater mortality of fawns.”
Floodwater tends to spread out over the marsh the further down river it gets. And, coastal deer populations are known to fawn early due to thousands of years of evolution, where high water occurs each spring. The potential impact of flooding over the coastal marshes could bode well for marsh deer in the future.
As huge amounts of sediment and nutrients flow over marshes it enhances the growth of indigenous vegetation.
Durham said, “Those are alluvial sediments and the region would be the Mississippi River by now. So, whenever we have a bunch of water coming down the Atchafalaya River and it’s spilling over the marsh depositing nutrients and good sediments, it’s like a little super-charge to the vegetation community. It’s going to have a good impact on wildlife as well.”
Where drought stunts growth, an abundance of nutrient-rich fresh water causes vegetation like cowpeas in the marsh to flourish. This favorite food causes marsh deer to become butterball fat come early October, with layers of white tallow ¾-inch thick over their rump.
The fertilizer filled freshwater should recycle in the marsh, meaning subsequent years of productive plant growth.
“We kind of fell off our 200,000 deer harvest numbers and have found a new plain of 150,000 and I don’t see a reason it should go down,” Durham said. “So, I’m looking for similar numbers this year. Quality-wise, lactation rates may be a little lower and maybe antler growth and development may be off some just because of the dry conditions. But, I’m cautiously optimistic, where the 2011-12 deer season is concerned.”