Options to help

DOW: Elk, deer baiting operation would require additional funds

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The Colorado Department of Wildlife can help Moffat County ranchers replace the hay and fix the fences lost to elk and deer, DOW officials said.

But removing those animals will take more funds than the department has on hand, said Bill de Vergie, Department of Wildlife area wildlife manager.

Abnormally harsh winter conditions have caused the animals to encroach in larger numbers on private lands, DOW spokesperson Randy Hampton said.

Kris Brannan, a landowner near Maybell, knows elk and deer are dying, she said, because more than 300 elk carcasses lie in a field near her house.

The DOW has provided landowners, including Brannan, with wooden panels to protect their hay from the elk and deer.

But Brannan wants more.

She estimated that she's lost more than 300 dollars worth in hay to elk and deer, which she said is not as much as her neighbors.

She said she and other landowners believe the DOW should "step up to the plate and pay for : what the animals have damaged."

De Vergie was one of several DOW officials who heard concerns from area landowners during a Tuesday night meeting at the Maybell Community Center.

In response to those concerns, DOW officials laid out various options, one being the Habitat Partnership Program.

"Authorized by the Colorado Wildlife Commission and Colorado State Legislature, the Habitat Partnership Program is designed to help reduce wildlife-agricultural conflicts and to assist the DOW to meet game management objectives on both public and private lands," the program's Web site reported.

The Partnership Program is funded by 5 percent of the DOW's annual budget, which is generated by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and federal sales taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.

By filling out an application, landowners can get money for various projects, including fixing fences damaged by elk.

The DOW also sustains the Game Damage Program, which can provide landowners with funds to replace hay and fences damaged by elk populations.

If landowners host hunters on their property, they must charge hunters less than $100 per person to be eligible for the program, de Vergie said.

Another option is baiting elk away from landowners.

The DOW may be able to bait elk and deer away from the landowner's property by placing hay on other lands - land belonging to the DOW, other agencies or willing private landowners - and creating paths where the animals can reach it, de Vergie said.

De Vergie stressed the difference between baiting and feeding.

Baiting primarily moves the animals whereas feeding is intended "to provide enough food to help them survive," he said.

"Because Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in deer, elk and moose herds in parts of Northwest Colorado, biologists are also concerned that feeding operations could spread CWD," according to a DOW news release. "Feeding operations can result in heavy concentrations of animals in an area, which can enhance disease transmission from animal to animal."

The DOW is unlikely to begin a feeding operation unless the drop in elk and deer populations becomes "catastrophic," Hampton said.

Losing 30 percent or more of a population's females is one indicator that the situation has reached that level.

The DOW "doesn't believe we've gotten to that point," Hampton said.

Neither the DOW nor the Partnership Program has the funding to pay for either baiting or feeding, de Vergie said.

The Colorado Legislature would have to approve any additional funding for either feeding or baiting operations.

This year, the Legislature approved an additional $1.7 million for the DOW's deer feeding operation in the Gunnison Valley or other feeding operations that may be necessary in the future, Hampton said.

Those funds are quickly being spent on feed and equipment to spread it, Hampton said.

"We could end up going back to the legislature," he said. "That could take some time."

"The bottom line is we'll work it out," Hampton added. "We're not going to sit and wait."

If given the choice, Brannan would rather have the elk off her property than wait for DOW funding - dollars she thinks will never come.

"They'll never pay us for the damages," she said.

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