“There are three elements in wildlife habitat,” said Mike Krueger, “food, water and cover. A drought takes away all three, and when you take away the habitat, you take away the wildlife.”
Krueger, district leader for the Edwards Plateau area for Texas Parks & Wildlife’s wildlife division, was telling a meeting on “Living with Drought,” at Johnson City’s First United Methodist Church, about effects of the drought, which is forecast to last at least another year.
“We haven’t seen a big die-off of deer in Blanco County — yet,” he added, “but we have seen a smaller-than-normal fawn crop, perhaps half the usual numbers, or worse, and the die-off may still be ahead this winter.”
And it’s not just deer suffering from the drought.
Bobwhite quail numbers already were declining, and now the grass they live in has dried up and turned to dust.
Turkeys also are in survival mode, he said, concentrating just on staying alive, not on reproduction.
“Besides cover, birds depend on grass and brush for insects to eat. Even seed-eating birds often depend on bugs for their young, and lost grass and brush means less bugs for birds, driving them away to friendlier habitats.”
Krueger also said the dip in bird and animal numbers is permanent, like the 20th Century American baby boom in reverse.
“Fewer animals born this year means a smaller number in their age group as long as their generation lives,” Krueger explained, “which shrinks the numbers in the next generation, too.”
“Even if the populations returns to normal reproduction next year, there will be fewer one-year-olds, and the next year the dip will be among two-year-olds, and so on until they all have died off.
“And that’s if things return to normal. The climatologists are saying normal rainfall will be an exception — the new normal is more likely to be drought — so you can do the math.”
Then what does an animal lover do about the pressure nature is putting on wildlife this winter? Put out extra feed?
The Parks & Wildlife experts recommend against it.
Most of the victims of a hard winter will be the weakest in the herd or flock, they explain, and the best, strongest will survive. When the drought finally breaks, those are the animals you want to re-populate the county. If you feed now, you keep the weak ones alive, giving weak bloodlines an artificial advantage.
“It sounds harsh,” Krueger admitted, “but the best thing you can do for the over-population of deer this winter is shoot a lot of them. Take the smaller, thinner, cull deer and leave the fat trophy animals. It saves the weak ones from starving to death, and keeps the best to start the new population.”
The hope, then, for the good of the Texas deer population, is that as the 700,000 or so hunters fan out across the state this season, they take their limit of less-than-trophy deer.
“They won’t see many big racks or fat does, but they’ll do the deer and future hunters a big favor by thinning the herd.”