Nevada's Winter Affects Wildlife

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Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) game biologists are grateful for the heavy precipitation from the recent winter storms that dropped much needed snow on some very dry habitat. After three years of drought conditions and wildfires, the snow and rain may help nurse some of the Silver State's struggling habitat back to health, provided that the storms continue to come. On the other hand, many of Nevada's animals were in poor condition going into winter, and severe weather conditions may take a significant toll.

"Precipitation has been below average, resulting in less-than-optimum habitat conditions," said Russ Mason, NDOW’s game division chief. "In the past, wildlife die-offs have been influenced by drought conditions," he continued, "and a large-scale snow event could result in above average losses of big and small game species going into winter in poor condition."

In western Nevada, a dry year and record high temperatures have left big game populations on dry feed in many ranges for over a year. Current "green-up" from December precipitation has chukar and deer taking advantage, although this usually does not occur until spring when wildlife is still on winter range without a good shrub component in their diet. If the region receives an unusually heavy snow, higher than normal deer losses should be expected. In the central part of the state, dry conditions have left game in poor overall body condition, reflected by relatively low reproduction. Given their condition and the lack of quality forage, even an average winter could result in higher mortality for many species. For the same reasons, NDOW biologists are concerned that reproduction may be poor next spring.

It's a mixed bag in southern Nevada. Pronghorn antelope are expected to fare the worst, as their habitat is in the poorest condition. Desert bighorn sheep habitat appears to be moderate throughout most of southeastern Nevada. Although there is wide variability, mule deer habitat appears to be in moderate to good condition, depending on the area. Elk habitat appears good in general. If the southeastern part of the state receives heavy snowfall this year, expect low numbers of young to survive the winter.

The good news is that wildlife will benefit from the moisture we're seeing in the long run because of the improvement to habitat. Precipitation means good forage and encourages shrub growth, providing cover for some species.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW's wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen's license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. For more information, visit www.ndow.org.