Whether or not these mule deer make it through the winter may depend in large part on how much fat they can store before winter starts.

To me, fat is a four-letter word spoken with loathing and despair. I suppose that is because I have had a lifelong battle with the stuff, losing more often than winning. Over time, I have lost hundreds of pounds only to gain it back and it always brings reinforcements. I am starting a new diet now hoping to shed a bunch of *#$% fat. I expect to be miserable and that is making me far grumpier than usual, as my wife will attest.

I realize that fat is an evolutionary necessity that our ancestors would have cherished. In the modern world though, I fail to see the benefits. My nutritionist daughter might point out that fat is necessary for our diets, but she is talking occasional ounces, not pounds.

 In nature though, fat is still an essential element in the survival of most animals and more, not less, is considered a good thing. For instance, in mammals inhabiting cold climates, fat is the way the animal can carry summer groceries into the winter. For an animal such as a mule deer, the amount of fat it brings with it to the winter range often makes all the difference in whether or not it will see spring green-up.

Bears need enough fat to get them through a long winter’s sleep. They forage all summer, hoping to put on weight, but during the last month or so before “hibernation”, they gorge on just about anything they can find. Scientists call this hyperphagia, and it is like the quarterback throwing the “hail Mary” pass in a tie game. The bear wins if it can fatten up enough to make it until spring.

Oddly, at the other end of the spectrum is another creature that must practice hyperphagia to survive. But for the hummingbird, fattening up isn’t for a long sleep, but rather, for an incredibly arduous migration journey. They may nearly double their body weight in fat just before migrating. The fat provides the energy needed to fly up to 600 miles without stopping.

Migrating warblers also put on the grams, often more than they need to complete migration. Research has found that the extra calories are carried mostly by breeding females. When they reach their nesting territories, the extra energy supplied by the fat helps them with nesting and egg-laying.

Blubber is a characteristic of all marine mammals. Blubber is a layer of adipose or fat tissue full of blood vessels and connecting ligaments and tendons that lies just under the skin, covering most of the body and appendages. Besides being extra energy storage for lean times, this layer of fat helps with thermoregulation—maintaining an even body temperature in extreme conditions. Blubber is a layer of insulation between them and the cold waters deep in the ocean. The fattest mammal on the planet is also the biggest animal on the planet: the blue whale, which may have a 12-inch layer of blubber over most of its massive body.

 Fat is even essential in the insect world. Grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park travel great distances to specific mountain slopes late each summer to feed on army cutworm moths that live there. These moths can attain up to 72 percent body fat by autumn and are terrific for helping the bears pile on the pounds. The moths need this stored energy for their own upcoming migration that may have them flying more than 60 miles a day without feeding.

While it may not be true for me, in nature it seems that it is not survival of the fittest, but rather, survival of the fattest.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure. 

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho