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Harsh Winter Continues: Feeding Operations Continue in Colorado's Gunnison Basin
March 5, 2008.
From the Colorado Division of Wildlife:
Difficult winter conditions remain in the Gunnison Basin and the big game feeding and baiting effort by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in the area is continuing.
The DOW is feeding about 8,600 deer at 131 different sites, and about 440 pronghorn at 12 sites. In addition, hay is being provided to about 3,300 elk to bait the animals away from ranchers' hay stacks and major roads.
Snow depths are above 30 inches at many of the feeding sites and most available food sources remain covered north of Highway 50. Total snow accumulation in the low elevation areas near Gunnison for this winter is 86 inches, which puts this season in the top five since records started being kept in 1899. Temperatures remain cold and little melting has occurred at the feed sites.
No major storms have hit the basin since January. Snow has continued to accumulate in small weather events but not enough to impede feeding operations. The feeding is running smoothly, said J Wenum, area wildlife manager. About 30 DOW staff and 80 volunteers are working on the effort daily.
During the last week of February attempts were made to reduce the amount of hay being delivered to elk. Unfortunately, the elk began moving quickly back to conflict areas so baiting has been continued.
Some problems with dogs chasing wildlife have occurred. Wildlife officers have written a few tickets to pet owners and have warned numerous others. Owners of pets that harass wildlife can be fined $274 or more.
The feeding operation started on Jan. 10. Wildlife managers are now evaluating conditions to determine how much longer the feeding operation should continue. At this point weather conditions indicate that the feeding operation will likely continue through March.
With warmer temperatures snow melting will accelerate and natural food sources will be exposed. As the range begins to clear deer will begin moving back to the natural food sources.
When snow depth decreases, DOW biologists plan to conduct a ground search of sample areas to estimate deer mortality. During an average winter it's estimated that about 18 percent of the total deer population will die. Biologists expect mortality rates to be higher this winter.