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Colorado Feeding Operations to Continue Through April 15
April 4, 2008.
From the Colorado Division of Wildlife:
The deer feeding operation in the Gunnison Basin is continuing; but Colorado Division of Wildlife managers expect that the program should end by mid April.
As of the end of March, the DOW was feeding about 9,100 deer at 114 sites in the Gunnison area. Earlier in the month the number of deer being fed peaked at about 9,500 at 131 feeding sites. Even though temperatures are slowly warming and south-facing hillsides are starting to be exposed, a thick crust of snow two-feet deep still covers much of the basin.
"Based on our population estimates, we have been feeding nearly half the deer in the Gunnison Basin and we believe this has been a very successful operation," said J Wenum, area wildlife manager in Gunnison. "There was concern in January that catastrophic mortality could occur. We still have some winter weather to go and have experienced some losses in big game, but the feed operations have helped many animals get through a record winter”
Heavy snows in late December and early January completely covered nearly all of the available food sources in the basin. Extremely cold temperatures followed and wildlife managers were concerned that a major portion of the estimated 21,000 deer in the basin might die. In early January the Colorado Wildlife Commission authorized the feeding operation.
Based on aerial and on-the-ground observations throughout the winter, wildlife managers estimate that mortality rates throughout the Gunnison Basin were above the long-term average.
"Winter mortality is a normal and necessary part of the natural cycle. Mortality rates are different every year," Wenum said. “The higher mortality we observed this year was anticipated and is not surprising based on the conditions this winter.”
In order to meet deer population management plan objectives, the DOW is recommending that the number of deer hunting licenses for the 2008 season in the Gunnison Basin be reduced by about half. At public meetings regarding license numbers in Gunnison on March 28, local residents, hunters and outfitters generally agreed with the numbers recommended by DOW's Gunnison staff.
License recommendations will be considered by the Colorado Wildlife Commission at its May 1 meeting in Grand Junction.
Every day since Jan. 10 about 20-30 DOW personnel and about 80 volunteers have worked on the feeding effort. Workers have endured deep snow and brutal cold to deliver nearly 600 50-pound bags of feed daily to more than 100 sites. As of March 31 the DOW had fed 30,100 bags of feed – more than 1.5 million pounds.
"A lot of people have put in a lot of hours and a lot of hard work. This was not easy," Wenum said.
Pellets were also fed to nearly 600 pronghorn that live in the basin. Feeding those animals met with varying success. Pronghorn are very skittish and many of the animals would not eat the feed. Consequently, wildlife managers estimate that about half the population has probably died.
"Eventually, good numbers of pronghorn did take to the feed, so we should have a good core population of animals in the basin to begin rebuilding following this winter," said Brandon Diamond, terrestrial biologist for the DOW in Gunnison. "We'll be watching the pronghorn closely to see how they fare this spring and summer,"
Hay was provided to about 3,200 elk, but only to keep them away from ranchers' hay stacks and major roads. Using a helicopter and snow-cats, the DOW delivered about 14 tons of hay to three large herds every day. Elk are hardy animals and survival is typically high even during harsh winters. No changes are recommended for the number of elk hunting licenses.
As the weather has warmed during the last two weeks, some natural food sources have become exposed and animals are moving to traditional range. Wildlife managers are now evaluating all feed sites on a daily basis and will cut back as conditions allow.
Officials estimate that the Gunnison feeding operation will cost about $1.75 million.
Anyone interested can make a tax-deductible donation to the program at any DOW office or at the web site, http://wildlife.state.co.us.
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