CPW reports moderate mortality levels among big game from heavy snow, but has not initiated feeding efforts
Worried about the early and heavy snowfall this winter, several community members have expressed concerns over the conditions of big game animals across Moffat County.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife hosted a meeting Monday, Feb. 6, at the 775 Yampa Building to share early reports and hear feedback on how deep snow has affected elk, deer and antelope herds in the area.
Assistant Area Wildlife Manager Mike Swaro said last week that big game herds have become more concentrated along river basins as winter conditions worsen, and traditional winter range areas are now under deep snow.
“In a number of situations these concentrations have resulted in increased conflicts with elk getting into livestock feed lines on private lands,” he warned. “We’re also seeing an increase in the number of animals near and along the roads as wildlife tries to find relief from deep snow and search for feed.”
CPW officials also have initiated a number of small efforts over the past few weeks to try to lure herds away from livestock feed lines and away from roadways. The concentration of herds along roads and near livestock poses public safety issues for drivers, and it could spread disease through interactions among wild herds and livestock.
Chronic wasting disease is an ongoing concern for state wildlife officials, and when animals congregate in a congested area, it can increase transmission. Currently, CPW has been working with Moffat County landowners on small-batch and temporary baiting efforts, a distinct practice used to keep animals away from conflict, specifically with livestock, but also with roads.
Feeding efforts are focused on keeping animals alive through the winter, and CPW officials said the herds in the area have not reached a level of mortality that would trigger feeding efforts yet. Currently, elk calves are at an 80% survival rate, fawns are at 85% and adults are at a 90% survival rate, according to CPW.
Pronghorns have seen the highest mortality rate so far this year, as they are typically the first herds to experience winter-related deaths, followed by deer fawns, then elk calves and finally adult animals. Generally a 30% herd mortality rate would trigger the wildlife agency’s feeding efforts, which also have to be approved by the CPW commission.
On Monday, several community members expressed concerns with the condition of some of the herds surrounding Moffat County and worried that waiting too long to initiate feeding efforts could have detrimental effects. Some residents felt like the herds may already be nearing 30% mortality.
However, CPW officials said it is difficult to predict the exact mortality rate until March or April, and early spring snowstorms pose another threat to the herds that have been with little food for the winter. The animal deaths CPW has seen this year were due to malnutrition, and field officers are seeing malnutrition among live herds across the region, according to CPW.
CPW will start to issue big game licenses in March, and depending on the final counts, mortalities may affect the number of hunting licenses issued, and some residents were also concerned about the economic impact of lowering the number of big game tags in Moffat County.
CPW officials said the agency’s efforts have been proactive with CPW responding to landowners’ concerns and using 240 tons of hay in baiting efforts. Still, hay does not provide the most ideal nutrition for deer and antelope, and CPW is asking landowners and residents to refrain from feeding animals hay or other foods because it can cause other health issues.
CPW officials said that there are several factors that make feeding initiatives challenging if the mortality level demands it, including volume. There are approximately 30,000 deer and 20,000 elk in the surrounding area, and even if CPW were to initiate feeding efforts, some herds in remote areas would be difficult to get to.
Chronic wasting disease is another concern for feeding initiatives because it would encourage animals to gather in concentrated places. CPW officials pointed out that chronic wasting disease is a long-term problem that often affects a herd for at least several years, whereas the mortality rates due to heavy snow may only have an impact on a single season.
If residents do see a nearby herd that is in isolated pockets of the county, residents can contact CPW for more information. Part of the role of local CPW officials is to communicate statewide conditions with the CPW commission, and officials said the agency will offer updates if conditions change to initiate feeding efforts.
- Do not feed wildlife. Not only is it illegal, it can actually do more harm than good. Wildlife such as deer and elk have complex digestive systems that are not adapted to human food, hay, alfalfa or straw. When people intentionally place or distribute food, salt blocks and other attractants for wildlife, it can lead to illness, poor body condition or death.
- Recreate with wildlife in mind:
- If an area is closed, do not enter.
- Have a plan B. If the trail or location you are planning to hike, snowshoe or ski is busy, move on to the next location.
- Keep your dog on a leash and under control. In the winter, animals are under stress from cold and reduced food supplies; being chased may cause them to lose critical fat — which may threaten their survival during an already difficult winter.
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