Blue Montain landowners seek predator study of predators

Landowners in western Moffat County say they are concerned about predators killing their cattle and a dwindling deer population.

Representatives of the Blue Mountain Livestock Producers Association, made up of about 30 landowners in the Blue Mountain area south of Dinosaur National Monument, told Moffat County commissioners Tuesday that they plan on bringing in several entities to study predator impact.

"One of the main things we livestock owners are concerned about is we want to leave our animals alone without worrying about predators, but we can't hardly do that anymore," said Lanny Kay, president of the Blue Mountain Livestock Producers Association. "Another reason for our concern besides the loss of livestock is we have extremely high fawn deer losses."

Kay said he has seen a steady decrease in the area deer population.

"Deer are an important resource to the state of Colorado because of the deer tags sold by the state," he said. "It's sad to see any wildlife in any area of the state disappear."

The main predators of the area that impact livestock and wildlife populations are coyotes, landowners said.

The Colorado Mule Deer Association and the Utah State University Berryman Institute will conduct a five-year study on Blue Mountain to monitor the populations of blue grouse, sage hens, mule deer and elk.

The United States Department of Agriculture has also contracted with the Blue Mountain Livestock Producers Association to supply a full-time hunter and to conduct aerial hunting on Blue Mountain.

The goals of the Blue Mountain Livestock Producers Association include:

Protecting livestock from predators.

Increasing mule deer herd size on Blue Mountain.

Increasing sage hen and blue grouse populations.

Dennis Behrens, executive director of the Colorado Mule Deer Association, said the deer population in the Blue Mountain area is steadily decreasing and it may be related to predators.

"We can not seem to get the deer herd to grow there," he said. "We're at about 34 percent, but that's nowhere near the 65 percent we need to be at."

Behrens said the Utah State University Berryman Institute should bring an objective view to the study.

"I felt strongly we need an outside source to come in and conduct the study," he said. "We wanted a legitimate outfit to come in and do the study with no biases. By the end of this month they will be on the ground doing research."

Funding for the study will cost about $100,000 per year for the next five years.

The Colorado Mule Deer Association is contributing money along with the Blue Mountain landowners.

Representatives from the Blue Mountain Livestock Association came before the Moffat County commissioners Monday to see if they had been allotted $10,000 the organization had asked for last fall.

The commissioners said the money allocation had already been figured in the 2002 budget.

"This is basically a locally driven group formed to address issues around Blue Mountain," said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director. "This goes along with our county land use plan. Rather than pointing fingers they've come together and invited a research firm that can show the hard-core facts."

Comstock said he is impressed with what the group has done so far.

"You realize you're dealing with progressive land owners when they realize science can play a role in their situation," he said. "Their families have lived on the land for many generations. They have a gut feeling about what the problem is and they're getting science to back it."

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