Winter mortality is normal for wildlife. Limited forage and cold temperatures make this a stressful season for them as they rely on fat reserves to survive. This winter, however, has been particularly stressful, and wildlife mortality will continue during spring months.
This increases the likelihood that residents and recreationists will encounter animal carcasses on the landscape. Here are some answers to common questions people may have as they encounter and deal with winter-killed animals.
How can I help wildlife this time of year?
The best thing residents and recreationists can do to help wildlife is give the animals plenty of space and keep pets from harassing wildlife. This helps wildlife retain the energy they need to survive. Never feed wildlife. Artificially feeding wildlife can lead to disease and is illegal.
How will impacts to wildlife populations be monitored?
This time of year is when biologists conduct annual flights and counts of deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and other species. These surveys often include classifications of adults and young. This data helps biologists track population recruitment and can influence adjustments to hunting season structures.
An animal has died on my property. What can I do?
Wildlife live and die on public and private lands. When an animal dies on private land, it is the landowner’s responsibility to dispose of the carcass if they so choose. Some waste disposal companies may be available to help. If the carcass is removed, it must be taken to a landfill. Dumping carcasses on public land is illegal and can spread diseases, including chronic wasting disease.
What should I do if I encounter an animal carcass while recreating?
Animal carcasses are a major seasonal food source for bears in some areas. Bears, especially grizzlies, can be defensive of these food sources. For this reason, recreationists should avoid carcass sites. Watch for ravens and other scavengers that may indicate if an animal carcass is nearby. If you find a large carcass on or near a trail on public land, contact the applicable land management agency.
What wildlife mortalities should be reported to FWP?
There are some circumstances when staff at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks may be interested in wildlife mortality reports. FWP staff will determine case by case whether a response is needed. These might include:
- Any animal seen alive with unusual symptoms, such as immobility, drooling, staggering, very poor body condition, and drooping head and ears
- Multiple sick or dead animals in the same area, particularly among domestic animals
- Individual animals recently deceased with evidence of disease, such as abscesses, severe diarrhea, and excessive mucous or puss from eyes and nostrils
- Mortalities of bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goats or other rare species
- An animal that dies due to possible criminal activity; FWP’s hotline for reporting crimes against wildlife is 1-800-TIP-MONT
What wildlife situations does FWP typically not respond to?
Most aspects of natural wildlife behavior and mortality don’t need to be reported. These include:
- Live animals that react normally to human presence by leaving the area, even if injured
- Animals that appear thin or have rough hair coat during winter and spring but are behaving normally
- Individual deer and elk that likely died of natural causes or trauma (e.g. vehicle collision)