Unlike many parts of the Midwest and the east coast, this has been an exceptionally mild winter in northern Idaho. That is why it came as a surprise to me this week when I received a call reporting a problem with dogs chasing deer in the St. Maries area. After a little checking, I learned similar calls have come in from around the region. The IDFG office has received reports of loose dogs chasing deer in Kootenai, Shoshone, Benewah and Bonner Counties. Winter perils to big game are many. The foremost problem is finding food and maintaining enough fat reserves to outlast winter. One unnecessary strain on big game animals, deer in particular, is surviving stress and energy loss associated with being chased by free roaming dogs. Many dog owners probably feel their friendly and gentle dog would never chase a deer. But when dogs meet deer and natural predatory instincts take over, the chase is on. Often it isn't much of a chase; as the lighter weight dog with big feet runs on top of the crusted snow, and the heavier deer breaks through the snow with little chance of escape. If concern about the welfare of individual deer or the deer population isn't enough to make a dog owner control his dog, Idaho law should. According to Idaho law, AAny person who is the owner of, or in possession of, or who harbors any dog found running at large and which is actively tracking, pursuing, harassing or attacking, or which injures or kills a deer, or other big game animal within this state, shall be guilty of an infraction. Should a dog kill a deer, the owner can be held responsible for the illegal taking of a deer which has a civil penalty of $200. Add in the fact that most counties have ordinances against allowing dogs to run loose, ordinances with even stiffer penalties, the effort it may take to keep Rover at home is well worth it. When snow begins to melt in the spring, it is easy to think dogs are no longer a threat to deer. However, remember that winter is a very stressful time for wildlife. Low temperatures and limited food supplies over the long term have cumulative effects and compromise a deer's survivability. The additional energy expended to outrun a dog may be the last straw or determining factor between life and death. Yearlings and fawns are particularly vulnerable to winter hardships as they have less in the way of fat reserves, and their shorter legs make snow travel more difficult. As we continue to develop home sites in prime winter ranges, the problem intensifies. The same features we like for our home sites, such as sunny southern exposures at the base of mountainsides with numerous trees and shrubs, are the same components necessary for good deer winter range. Idaho law also provides that, "Any dog found running, harassing, attacking, or killing deer or any other big game animal may be destroyed...by any peace officer." This does not provide legal standing to all persons to remove offending dogs, only Apeace officers. No officer wants to kill a dog and it happens very rarely. When a dog is threatening the life of a big game animal, officers try to stop the attack. When they cannot, the officer to save the life of the deer may legally destroy the dog. Please keep your dog confined to give deer a chance in already tough winter conditions. All dog owners have a responsibility to keep their dog(s) out of situations where their instincts to chase deer may result in the dog's death or the death of a deer.