CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- School closures and icy roads aren't the only problems winter creates.
Cold, snowy winters can also wreak havoc on wildlife. In a best-case scenario, animals go hungry for a while. In a worse-case scenario, they bear fewer offspring the following year. In a worst-case scenario, they die.
This winter has been colder and snowier than average, and West Virginia's wild creatures have less to eat than usual. Acorns, a food source for several important wildlife species, were scarce to nonexistent last fall. As a result, deer, bears, turkeys and squirrels went into the cold months without the energy reserves they rely on to sustain them until spring.
The good news, if there is any, is that Division of Natural Resources officials haven't yet encountered any signs of winterkill.
"As an agency, we document any winter mortality events that occur," said Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief.
"The bottom line is that we haven't heard of any significant morality events. We just finished our [midwinter] biologists' meeting, with staff present from all across the state, and no one mentioned having seen any signs of winterkill."
Johansen said all of the state's bird and animal species are built to endure the extremes of an Appalachian winter.
"Across evolutionary time, species adapt to survive a wide range of temperatures. So far this winter, I haven't seen any conditions our wildlife wouldn't be able to handle," he added.
Winter isn't yet over, however, and Johansen acknowledged that conditions could worsen. Johansen said a heavy snowfall, followed by a thaw-and-freeze cycle and a long spell of bitterly cold temperatures, would cause problems for deer and turkeys in particular.
"Deep, heavy snow accumulations are hard on deer," he explained. "They have trouble walking around, and they can't scratch through the snow to find food. Most of the times when we've experienced significant winterkill in our deer herds, deep snow has contributed to the problem."