This year’s heavy snowfall could be causing some suffering for area wildlife, the Ministry of Natural Resources says.

Using a "chillometer" to determine the impact of cold weather on animals, the MNR has officially classifed this winter as "severe" in the Dryden area.

The MNR rates the winter season each year based on temperature and snowfall. Ministry biologist Lisa Eddy said it was mostly the cumulative snowfall that finally pushed this winter into the severe category.

"[The index] takes into consideration all of the snow for the season, because that is a combined cumulative stress on wildlife," Eddy said.

She noted animals like deer can suffer in these situations.

"With deer, in particular, it slows them down. They can't move around as much," Eddy said.

"It would slow them down if they were being targeted by a predator. And it also makes it harder for them to get to their food supply."

Stress not prolonged

But she said she doesn't expect there will be a significant impact on the deer population.

"With our melt already starting to occur [and] our snow depth going down, it was not a very prolonged stress on the deer," she said.

"There was a period of time when we didn't see as many around [as] their movement was probably restricted. But that seems to have already changed."

She said the MNR expects even less impact on moose, which can better handle a harder winter.

The "chillometer" station, located in Aaron Provincial Park, provides a simulated measure of the amount of energy required to sustain an animal’s body temperature throughout the winter, while fighting frigid temperatures and wind chill. 

A pressure cooker — powered by electricity — maintains water at a temperature of around 4 C, which simulates the internal body temperature of a mammal. Biologists then used electrical meter readings from the device to extrapolate the calorie requirements of animals like deer to maintain their core temperature under winter conditions, while also exposed to wind and ambient temperatures.