Cottage Q&A: Deer browsing in winter?

Published: February 3, 2021

Male deer standing in front of snow-covered trees By Josef Pittner/Shutterstock

Is that distinct line in the trees you can see as you look around the shoreline of a lake caused by deer browsing? It’s really pronounced on our lake. I’ve heard it’s from the deer browsing in winter as they stand on the ice. Is that true?—Name Withheld, Beaver Lake, Ont.

Sure is. “If you see a near-perfectly straight line, that’s likely wildlife chew,” says Matt Logan, an arborist with Logan Tree Experts in Lakefield, Ont. “It usually looks like someone has come along with a hedge trimmer.”

Cottage Q&A: Feeding deer in the winter

Depending on the height of the horizontal line, it could actually be a number of ungulate species, says Ashley Autenrieth, a deer biologist with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources. So, without more details, we can’t rule out, for example, elk or moose. “The browse line is essentially the line to which ungulates browse an area as high as they can reach.” 

Happily, most trees survive this kind of animal assault. “The trees will be fine,” says Logan. “It’s a natural process.”

How to assess tree health and decide if one needs to come down

But the deer? Unfortunately, if the population is large enough, “ungulates can be their own worst enemies, and eat themselves out of house and home,” says Autenrieth. “This is where the balance between predators and prey can be a key factor. The landscape needs predators to balance out prey, so that areas can regenerate and produce enough food and resources for all wildlife.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

Featured Video