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Winter a tough season for deer 0

Gayle Carlyle

A pair of deer keep a sharp lookout for potential dangers while venturing out into the open in search of food. Winter is a particularly challenging time for deer. Deep snow and extreme cold make it difficult for them to find food. (JOHN CHALLIS, Submitted photo)

A pair of deer keep a sharp lookout for potential dangers while venturing out into the open in search of food. Winter is a particularly challenging time for deer. Deep snow and extreme cold make it difficult for them to find food. (JOHN CHALLIS, Submitted photo)

Almost everyone is familiar with the white-tailed deer, mostly by quick glimpses of this large mammal as it dashes off into the bush with its trademark white tail held up and over its back.

But many people may not realize winter is a difficult time for deer. Deep snow makes it almost impossible for the animals to move around in search of food. Deer congregate, finding shelter in lowland conifer (especially hemlock) stands. When weather and snow conditions permit, deer will venture out in search of buds, twigs, conifer needles and bark. Cedar trees, in particular, provide a nutritious meal for deer.

Over the past few decades, white-tailed deer populations have expanded both in numbers and range, even into urban areas in downtown Toronto. This interaction with people and their pets can often result in problems for both the humans and the deer.

The Couchiching Conservancy helps protect more than 11,000 acres on 37 properties across the region. White-tailed deer have found refuge on many of these properties.

Several of our properties feature hiking trails that are open to the public in the winter. Our flagship property, Grant’s Woods, has more than four kilometres of beautiful trails that wind their way through a 52-acre mature-growth forest. This winter, there have been several sightings of white-tailed deer either using the trail system or crossing over it to reach another forest. Every day reveals a line of fresh tracks through the forest indicating the frequent use of our property by deer. This has also attracted coyotes. In fact, an adult coyote was spotted this week just outside the conservancy office. It was likely on its way to feed on the carcass of a large deer that had recently been brought down in Grant’s Woods.

While we welcome visitors and their pets to our properties with trails, we would like to remind folks that all dogs must be kept on leashes. Even the friendliest, most well-behaved pooch will chase deer; it’s just instinct for them to do so. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources provides the following information in a fact sheet:

“Dogs and Deer:

Dogs which are allowed to run at large in deer-wintering areas are a big problem for deer in winter. Dogs may chase deer and kill them indirectly by exhaustion of the energy reserves, which a deer normally requires to survive winter. This effect can be particularly pronounced in pregnant does, which may abort the fetuses they are carrying. Deer are especially susceptible when snow crusting supports predators or dogs.”

Keeping your dog leashed while enjoying nature not only helps protect resident wildlife; it may also avert a tragedy. A dog chasing after deer could easily get lost and venture out onto a roadway.

So, please come out and enjoy the beauty of nature in winter; just remember being a responsible pet owner is important to both the wildlife and the consideration of other visitors.

Please join us this Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at Hawk Ridge Golf and Country Club in Orillia for our annual general meeting.

Gayle Carlyle is the outreach co-ordinator for the Couchiching Conservancy, which helps protect more than 11,000 acres of natural land across the region. For more information, visit

couchichingconserv.ca or call 705-326-1620.

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