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Winter's not all bad for nature



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March 12, 2014 - A near record winter on tap for the Detroit area will benefit some species of wildlife, increase water levels and knock down the number of some pesky insects.

According to the National Weather Service in White Lake, Detroit has seen its second snowiest winter and the Flint its fourth. Less than 10 inches must fall to break the all-time snowiest winter record in the Detroit area.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Chief Russ Mason said back in the 19th century, similar winters were more common, and usually occurred every five to six years. In the 21st century, bad winters have been few and far between, and it has been about 20 years since we have had a comparable winter.

While this winter has been a brutal one—we needed it to raise water levels and knock down the number of some invasive species.

Invasive species

The cold weather has killed off a big percentage of the Emerald Ash Borer, an insect that destroys Ash trees.

Mason said even though the Ash Borer numbers have been impacted—it' still not enough to stomp out the problem—and eventually all ash trees in Michigan will be destroyed.

Gypsy moths and the biting midge fly have also been killed by the cold.

Unfortunately, invasive plants like phragmites will not be fazed.

Wildlife

Deep snow depth, more so than cold temperatures, impacts wildlife the most because it hampers access to food sources.

Mason said the DNR is extremely concerned with the heavy death toll on some species.

While most animal deaths—in the tens of thousands-- will occur in Michigan's Upper Peninsula—it will also impact Clarkston area wildlife, he said.

"The wildlife is stressed right now in your area, but it's not a gigantic problem."

Animals that will be adversely effected include deer, turkeys, waterfowl and rabbits.

Death is not necessarily a bad thing—for some species.

"It's been this way forever," said Mason. "Die-off's leave more resources for the living."

Predator type species like coyotes and wolves will fare well as will Michigan's moose population—which has been on decline because of increasing temperatures and drought.

Predators will have more dead carcasses to consume from animals that have succumb to extreme conditions.

Some species thrive in heavy winters. This winter is perfect for wildlife like grouse, bear, moose and the snowshoe hair. "They have greatly adapted to cold and snow," he said.

Humans may be wondering how the wildlife is doing out there, so feeding them may seem like a good idea, but it can have negative consequences.

"When humans put out food for the wildlife more species of animals gather together which could promote disease transmission like Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease," said Mason.

Transmitted by the biting midge fly, which have also been killed by the cold, EHD is a disease that causes internal hemorrhaging and death.

"This is a great winter to knock that back," he said.

And be aware that feeding them may also cause them to stick around.

"The same homeowners that are feeding animals like deer will be the same people that call later to complain that deer are eating their ornamentals."

Water levels

Other benefits from this snow-filled winter include more access to water for wildlife—and humans. Humans can thank Mother Nature when they hit the beach this summer-or while visiting the Great Lakes.

"The Great Lakes recharges waterways throughout the state," said Mason. "Heavy snowfalls will have a very powerful effect on the Great Lakes and wetlands throughout the state of Michigan."

Since the 1990's, the Great Lakes have suffered lower than average levels which in turn impacts other waterways throughout the state. The five Great Lakes including Lake Ontario, Michigan, Huron, Superior and Erie are over 90 percent covered in ice which will prevent evaporation.

Although this winter will have beneficial effects, it's still is not enough to bring the Great Lakes up to baseline levels which are still down substantially.

Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.
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