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Colorado DOW Begins Emergency Feeding of Deer

January 19, 2008

As Hunt The West subscribers heard in our January 10th update, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has identified a need for emergency feeding operations for big game animals in the Gunnison Basin, one of Colorado's great hunting regions.

Feeding operations began on January 16th, and are considered the largest undertaken in Colorado in 24 years.

The area's 8,000 deer will be primarily targeted because they are most affected by adverse weather conditions. Feed and hay will also be provided to bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and elk.

The operation has more than 50 potential feeding sites spread out over 60 miles in all directions. About 250 volunteers from the area are helping in the operation.

Photo: Colorado Division of Wildlife

Personnel participating in the operation are using Sno-Cats and snowmobiles to pack down the snow in the feeding sites and to get feed to the animals.

Wildlife officials are concerned that deep snow and extremely cold temperatures in the Gunnison basin are causing deer to deplete their energy reserves too early this winter. Without supplemental food, mortality could reach levels of 30-50%. The snowpack in the Gunnison Basin is now at 143% of average.

"So far, deer appear to be in pretty good condition for this time of year given the current weather and snow depth," explained J. Wenum, area wildlife manager in Gunnison.

"We haven't seen any weather-related mortality to speak of yet. But from experience we know that the snow conditions could soon start to take a toll on deer.

Deer have more specific nutritional needs than elk and cannot survive on hay. The feed formulation that will be used was developed after extensive nutritional research by the CDOW years ago.  Ingredients include wheat and other grains, dehydrated alfalfa and cottonseed meal. The feed is formulated into wafers so that it will stay on top of the snow. Deer will receive about 3 pounds of the feed per day.

Feeding operations are expected to continue for at least the next month.

Due to the tremendous community response to last week's call for volunteers, no additional volunteers are needed at this time.

Wildlife managers are also monitoring weather and snow conditions in other areas of western Colorado, including the Eagle Valley, the Aspen area, the Meeker/Craig area and the lower Yampa Valley.

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