Delaying mowing as long as possible saves wildlife

A deer fawn lying in weedy cover to escape predation is a possible mowing tragedy waiting to happen.

I have noted a good bit of hay being cut here lately — and wondered if any of those big round bales might have mangled deer fawns rolled up within them.

Grasses and weeds have had a wonderful growth year, especially with the abundance of rainfall in early spring. Along with hay production, far more areas are getting mowed and bush-hogged just to keep them from being reclaimed by nature.

Here’s a plea for land managers and even residential property owners, however: If you can delay the cutting of some of these grassy and weed-cloaked areas, a lot more baby wildlife will survive through a period of extreme vulnerability.

Recently born deer fawns are perhaps the most critical examples. A high percentage of fawns are born from the last of May into early June. During the first few weeks of life, when they lack the mobility to escape fleet predators like coyotes, fawns spend most of their time hiding in cover.

Left alone by their mothers most of the time so as not to draw predator attention to them, fawns rely on their spotted coats for camouflage and hide from potential dangers. Their inclination is just to lie still with head and ears down when a threat approaches, hoping it will not see them and cruise on by.

That might work with a furry predator, but it is a disastrous instinct when the approaching danger is a tractor pulling a mowing attachment. Without detection and quick, compassionate avoidance by the human operator, it is a good chance for such a fawn to experience a premature end.

These dangers go on for some time as fawns mature. I once spooked a fawn from literally underfoot well into mid-summer. It ran away to safety with surprising speed and agility, but not until my boot almost touched it. Had I been a mower instead of a pedestrian, I’m not sure the young deer would have escaped.

It’s not just deer fawns at issue here. Small animals like cottontail rabbits and all sorts of ground-nesting birds have youngsters in the weeds and brush country right now. Wild turkeys, especially late nesters, have young poults that may lack the get-up-and-go that they need to break from cover and get away from the approach of swirling blades.

Early summer greenery marches on, and there is plenty of motive for land managers to keep open land acreage from being reclaimed by thickets in the making. However, wildlife managers encourage farmers and other land tenders to merely delay cutting. The longer that mowing can be deferred into the summer season, the more young critters and birds will survive.

Biologists encourage holding off until mid-August or so to avoid the biggest part of collateral damage to spring- and summer-nesting wildlife.

For those tending to larger, uncropped open areas, biologists encourage the mowing or bush-hogging in strips, alternating sections every other year. Mowing in strips, leaving cover for a year at a time, will suppress woody growth from taking over land, but the alternating unmowed segments perpetually provide some cover for wildlife.

• Because of the ongoing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no new drawings for waterfowl blinds on Illinois Department of Natural Resources-managed areas for the 2020-21 waterfowl hunting season.

Illinois waterfowl managers say existing blind holders — those that were drawn for the 2019-20 season — will be allowed to maintain their blinds through the coming season.

IDNR officials say the traditional waterfowl blind drawings in some areas are known to draw hundreds or even thousands of people, which would prompt possible social distancing and crowd size violations under present precautionary coronavirus guidelines.

The resumption of waterfowl blind drawings is anticipated for Illinois’ 2021-22 season.

• Recreational swimming among Kentuckians is likely reaching a peak with the July Fourth holiday, and officials don’t want outdoors water-going fun seekers downplaying the potential risks.

Kentucky already has experienced a dozen drownings this spring and summer, and Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources officers stress the need for safety awareness for those who swim in the state’s lakes and streams.

“Swimming in a lake or jumping into a stream is much different from swimming in a pool,” noted KDFWR Commissioner Rich Storm. “There are no lifeguards. There are no walls to grab onto. There is often debris and logs that can entrap or injure you.

“The bottom can drop off sharply,” Storm said. “The water can be cold and the current deceptively swift. Fatigue can set in quickly.”

Storm said it is critical for swimmers to not overestimate their abilities.

A common scenario in drownings has been swimmers striking out over deep water attempting to reach locations that are simply beyond their endurance limits. They tire unexpectedly and, with no assistance at hand, slip below the surface.

American Red Cross offers safety recommendations for swimmers and their family members:

— Have young children and inexperienced swimmers wear life jackets.

— Avoid swimming alone.

— If a swimmer encounters difficulty, a non-expert swimmer should not enter deep water to help, lest the would-be rescuer also become a victim. It’s better to reach out or throw a flotation device to the struggling swimmer.

— Children should have constant supervision around water. Young children should not get beyond arm’s length of an overseeing adult.

— In a group of swimmers, someone should serve as a monitor to eyeball the overall activity to be sure no individual is encountering trouble.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Email outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.