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Wiltz: Taking wildlife inventory after another SD winter

With the 2016-2017 winter behind us, I thought we'd take a look at how wildlife fared, both at home and around the country.

I could be a bit premature. It was 1984 or 1985, but we had an April 12 blizzard that began with light snow on Sunday evening. I jokingly told the kids that we wouldn't have school the next day. By the time a final count was taken, South Dakota lost 84,000 head of livestock.

In visiting with a long-time rancher friend in the Lemmon-McIntosh area, early winter was brutal, and he anticipated some losses. However, the pheasants, grouse, deer, and antelope came through it unscathed, and they're doing well. Further west toward Harding County, they didn't have as much snow as Corson County and they fared well. Right now, northwest South Dakota needs moisture.

I asked Department of Game, Fish, and Parks how our state's wildlife fared in general, and LouAnn Miller responded that our wildlife had a good winter.

Other parts of the country were not as fortunate as we. Perhaps the most bizarre incident occurred in Payette, Idaho, where severe snow drove antelope into town. A herd of 50 ate the poisonous leaves of a Japanese yew, and all 50 died. So far, Idaho has spent a record $650,000 to feed wildlife this past winter.

Wyoming is expecting heavy deer and antelope losses as snow and extreme temperatures, especially in the north and west, have been brutal. Roadkill has been high as the animals seek escape from the snow. Now that I have a Wyoming elk tag for next fall, Wyoming has become more meaningful.

North Dakota was hit with heavy snow that buried and completely covered cattails and shelterbelts in much of the state. Deer, antelope, pheasants, and turkeys were hit hard. Dead deer are now showing up in farmlots where snow drove them from their usual cover.

Montana and north-central Oregon were plagued with snow that started piling-up in December. Late-season storms continued, and the deer and antelope fawn crop is expected to perish in the northern Rockies and Great Plains.

Another story to watch is the moose population in the Lower 48, which is in trouble.

Maine might be considered the moose stronghold and permit numbers are down. In Wildlife Management District No. 2, a prime moose territory, permits dropped to 300 in 2016 compared to 800 in 2013. Statewide overall, permits dropped to 2,140 in 2016 from 3,095 in 2014 and 2,740 in 2015. Hunter success has fallen from above 70% to 65%.

Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife knows the reasons for moose mortality are complex, but they also know that ticks are a large factor in calf loss. They have found moose carrying 50,000 ticks. Ticks compromise the metabolism, thereby making them more susceptible to all diseases. Lower snowfall fosters the tick problem and the farther north, the fewer the ticks. Maine is expecting high moose mortality this spring.

My 2016 Northern British Columbia moose didn't have a tick on him ... at least that I could see. I'm not ready yet to accept man-induced global warming but I do know that we are in a warming cycle, and that this cycle is affecting everything from moose to waterfowl. Other than my South Dakota report, today's information came from The Hunting Report that is published in San Mateo, California.

As I have voiced my pro-Second Amendment mindset from time to time, I have been asked what my views are on the recent gun bill vetoed by our governor. In short, it was proposed that South Dakotans need not have a "permit to carry" in order to carry a concealed weapon.

I support the governor's veto. I like the need to have a permit in order to carry concealed.

Other than the usual background check, I like the idea that the county sheriff has input — so long as he/she carries on in a responsible manner. I don't want someone who couldn't qualify for a permit carrying a concealed weapon. We have too many citizens who are under the influence of drugs, and we certainly don't want them on our streets with a concealed gun. Keep in mind that we can already carry a non-concealed gun or have a gun in plain view on the seat of our car or pickup. That's enough.

I cringe at the thought of anyone walking into our schools with a gun, period! In my opinion, to allow concealed weapons on any Tom, Dick, or Harry is madness.

See you next week.