Where are the deer?
July 8, 2001
To the Editor;
Having been fortunate to grow up on a cattle ranch on the White River during the 50s and 60s, I was under the impression that our deer herds would never disappear. During the spring migration of the Piceance Creek herd back to the summer range, a person could count between 5,000 and 12,000 deer out of a vehicle on the 46 mile jaunt up Piceance Creek. This was about the time of the first television exposure in the area. The deer were so plentiful that at times the whole hillside would look as if it were moving. It was quite an exciting spectacle to witness. On my return visits over the last ten years, I was hard pressed to count over 150 deer over the same stretch. This once mighty herd has all but vanished from it’s original population.
For years the sportsmen, cattlemen, sheepmen, outfitters and landowners have disputed the Division of Wildlife’s census of our big game animals in Colorado. Many of the outfitters do not even offer deer hunting as an option today. To the chagrin of the groups listed, the DOW advertises about 500,000 deer in Western Colorado. The White River herd is listed as 68,000 strong. Unfortunately, there is little support for these numbers among the residents of the area. According to the DOW data, this Western Slope population has not declined for the last ten years.
It seems rather strange that in 1963 the deer harvest was 150,000 deer and for the last three years under the limited license draw, this harvest has declined to under 40,000 with from 17,000 to 23,000 licenses left over. Colorado went to the draw in 1998 after pressure from sportsmen’s groups and concerned citizens. Our resident deer license sales have been dropping over the last ten years while elk licenses are on the increase. The fawn/doe ratios have been slipping from an average of 60/100 in 1990 to slightly over 50/100 last year. Utah closes units where the ratio reaches 50/100 and implements aerial gunning of coyotes as a counter measure. They consider these units as crisis areas.
Obviously, there is something dramatically different in perception between the sporting and ranching communities and the statistics produced by the computer modeling of the DOW biologists. It would appear that the herd would be on the decrease if these harvest numbers, license sales, leftover licenses and decreasing fawns were any indication. If the people in the field are correct in perception, why are we selling more either sex and doe licenses on the Western Slope? With governor tags selling for $65,000, and the Jicarrila selling deer hunts for $12,500 with a long waiting list, it appears that there is plenty of demand for good deer hunting. Somewhere, the data does not blend with the reality of diminishing deer. When sportsmen and outfitters request fewer deer licenses, would it seem that there must be good reason?
The answer, my friends, is simple. We do not have the deer and have not had them for years.
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Alan A. Storey,
Colorado Mule Deer Assn.