HELENA — Everyone in the state is dealing with the widespread wildfires and drought conditions in one way or another right now. But what do these conditions mean for our big game animals and upcoming hunting season? The short answer: it’s complicated.
Mild winters, which contribute to fire seasons like we’re dealing with now, also mean higher winter survival rates for the state's deer, elk, moose and antelope. Fires also lead to new growth and nutrition which benefits our wildlife. But it’s obviously not all positive.
“Right now with the dry summer, it makes it difficult from a nutrition standpoint, trying to get the food that they need," said FWP Game Management Bureau Chief Brian Wakeling. "So we start to see, especially with the young, their survival rates may drop off. They become more susceptible to predation, their malnutrition, really getting them ready for this upcoming winter, makes it really hard for them to make it through it.”
It turns out the biggest threat to wildlife isn’t the danger of the fire itself but what it causes.
"While we don’t typically see a lot of direct mortality loss as a result of those fires, they certainly displace wildlife and then they wind up competing with other wildlife that already exists in other situations, ” said Wakeling.
But, even with the early fire season raging on right now things aren’t doom and gloom for our wildlife or upcoming hunting season.
“Again, the adults typically cope, they figure out how to adjust," Wakeling added. "We may see some added mortality from some of the young especially coming up if we have a difficult winter. But, at the same time, this is not something new for wildlife. They do address those kinds of situations and, after the fires are over a lot of times we have a really good recovery and it can be a real benefit to wildlife.
As of right now, hunters this fall should expect things to not change too much. But wildlife numbers always fluctuate, so it is important to keep up on the FWP regulation corrections on their website. And with pronghorn archery season starting Aug. 15, it is also important to double-check any fire restrictions in place where you are hunting.