DOW repeats aerial deer count

Having been at odds for years over a variety of wildlife issues, Western Slope hunters may be able to once again put some faith into the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

In response to hunter claims that the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) is overestimating the results of aerial wildlife surveys, a new cooperative study was undertaken between sportsmen, the DOW, and the Idaho Department of Game and Fish.

"We invited representatives of the Colorado Mule Deer Association to join us at the beginning of this survey," said Russell George, director for the DOW. "They joined us in designing the survey, we asked them where they would like the count to occur, and what model we should use. They selected Unit 10, and asked that we use the Idaho model."

The Idaho Sightability Model is similar to the model Colorado uses flying 50 to 100 feet above the ground at speeds of 35 to 50 mph and counting deer. Wildlife managers from Colorado and Idaho, along with experts chosen by the sportsmen, showed that survey systems in both states provided similar results.

The Colorado DOW estimates the mule deer population in Unit 10 to be 6,800, while the Idaho model produced an estimate of 11,000.

"We are confident that Colorado's technique for counting deer provides conservative deer population estimates," said Dave Freddy, DOW researcher. "The aerial survey supported population estimates derived in our computer population models, and as such, support the concept that computer population models can provide reasonable estimates of population size to adequately guide decision making for managing mule deer."

The $50,000 study was funded in part by the Colorado Bowhunters Association and the Mule Deer Association. The survey almost had a tragic ending when one of the helicopters was forced to make a landing due to mechanical problems.

"We were fortunate no one was injured," Freddy said.

The DOW was assisted by Jim Unsworth, principal wildlife research biologist at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

"The estimates using our techniques tended to agree with those of Colorado," he said. "Colorado uses sampling techniques that are long-tested and similar to what we use. We acted in a consulting form, and were not out to prove any estimate was right or wrong."

Cooperation between agencies is not a rare occurrence. Colorado researchers have assisted Idaho in their research in the past.

"We continue to research, develop and test out management techniques," said Gary Miller, Division terrestrial wildlife researcher. "Our district wildlife managers and area biologists worked with us on this project, and we were all working toward the same objective of improving our ability to manage Colorado's wildlife."

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