This early spring weather has been a pleasant break from the normal frigid February weather with highs struggling to reach the 50-degree mark on a normal year.
These 65 and 70 degree days have us spoiled giving us an early taste of spring.
We have had so many pleasant days you could even say that this early spring is “killer!” Unfortunately, it isn’t only in the sense of the 80s slang term for something that is excellent or outstanding. These early spring days can spell trouble when the weather turns and old man winter shows his power once again.
All these warm days can be a false spring, and a false spring can spell trouble to a lot of native plants and trees in the region. When we string many of these high temperature days together the plants often forget what time of the year it really is.
When the soil gets to a certain temperature it triggers many plants to start budding and growing leaves. This can spell trouble when the plants start budding too early and Jack Frost shows up to put a sudden halt to their head start.
Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena like budding and leafing of plant life. Scientists who gather this type of information are especially wary on years when the weather warms up warm too early like it has this year.
These scientists, and even the avid outdoorsmen, know that if the trees and plants start budding and growing too early and we get a heavy frost, it can spell disaster for things to come later in the year. Some of the earliest trees that start to bloom and grow are the fruit and mast producing trees that wildlife depends heavily on each fall.
When the early spring comes to a very abrupt end by a killing frost it can kill the young buds on the trees that would eventually turn into blooms and fruit of the tree. When the frost comes late enough, or hard enough, it can even alter the leaf production of the trees and even the forest canopy won’t be as dense.
While the hard frost may not become an immediate problem, it is rolling the dice when the following winter comes around. If a false spring with a hard frost is followed by a harsh winter it can take a huge toll on wildlife.
If the young buds of the trees get damaged and fruit production is severely impacted or even completely halted in some regions, this means the animals must work harder to find less nourishing foods and leave them less than their best going into the winter. When the winter comes, and becomes particularly harsh, it can spell doom for all sorts of critters.
The lean times of winter aren’t the only times a mast failure due to a late frost can impact wildlife. It puts the animals in jeopardy as soon as the lush green plants of summer start to wither.
When bounty of greens of the summer start to fade wildlife of all sorts switch to other food sources. A lack of hard and soft mass, like acorns and apples, means the animals will be on the move to find suitable nourishment.
While this may be a great thing for hunters, it increases the dangers animals face each and every day. Increased movement means they come into contact with more predators, hunters included, and worse still, they are seen with increased frequency crossing roads and highways.
So, watch out, if there isn’t enough food for the deer and squirrels in the mountains, look for them to spend more time crossing the street and usually in front of a fast moving automobile. The perils are everywhere and a lack of food only amplifies them.
Hopefully, we can avoid all of these increased dangers and problems if Mother Nature will see fit to let the milder weather continue and keep Jack Frost at bay. The trees and plants will continue to bloom, flower, and produce an abundance of food for all the forest dwellers and things will be grand.
I hate to admit it, but I am not going to hold my breath. I don’t think winter is done, but you can’t tell it from the weather forecast so keep your fingers crossed.
Roger Wolfe is an Outdoor Columnist for Civitas Media. For comments, questions or story ideas he can be reached at [email protected]