2008-12-04 / Local & State

Mild Fall Makes For Fat Deer In E. Ore.

BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP) - It's fat city in the countryside of Eastern Oregon's Baker County.

A moist and mild fall has turned the meadows green and the mule deer plump.

That's a good sign for the deer and for the two-legged shooters who prey on them.

"It's a phenomenal green-up," said Brian Ratliff, a wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Baker City office. "The deer are set for a good winter."

Once the snow comes, the deer not only expend more energy getting through the drifts, but also burn extra calories just to stay warm, he said.

When wintry weather fades into spring, every pound a deer adds during the fall means extra survival time.

Ratliff said he and district wildlife biologist Nick Myatt looked at dozens of deer that hunters killed during last month's season.

Almost all the deer had ample fat reserves, Ratliff said.

The weather has been so benign, that many deer have yet to descend to winter range, where even during hard winters the snow doesn't get too deep and the temperatures are at least slightly warmer than in the animals' summer range high in the mountains.

"If they haven't moved down yet, that means they're finding what they need higher up," Ratliff said.

That, too, is abnormal for Baker County.

Most years, snow has driven deer down to their winter range by the middle of November.

The bountiful forage is especially vital for deer because they are more vulnerable to harsh winters than are elk, bighorn sheep and mountains goats, Ratliff said.

But, Ratliff said, other species such as chukars and other upland game birds are also fattening up during the benevolent weather and abundant grass.

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