DOW: Wildlife numbers changing normally |

DOW: Wildlife numbers changing normally

Collin Smith

— Monty Ages sees elk every day, he said.

He works on a ranch west of Maybell, close to Elk Springs. Presumably because of weather conditions, Ages said, elk are in the fields every night and still there every morning eating whatever hay they can find.

“They’ll come in and start feeding as early as 4:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “They might stay as late as 6:30 in the morning.”

Ages doesn’t mind helping the animals, he said, but there’s only so much he can do.

The horses he cares for need food, too.

He sees the elk starving in his fields, and he’s starting to worry about the elk around the county, he said.

“I can see their hip bones and their rib bones and the bones on their back,” Ages said.

“It just seems like this whole herd of elk and they’re all this way. The elk are actually starving to death. The ones out in the wild are actually doing worse than the ones here, I’m certain of that.”

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is aware of the concern out there for deer and elk, but does not think it would be beneficial to step in at this time, DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said.

The DOW is actively monitoring regional wildlife populations and will intervene to avoid “catastrophic damage to populations,” he said.

“We will act, but we will act responsibly and we will act when the time comes,” Hampton said.

“We all want, as people, to take care of the animals and watch out for them, but there are some other realities out there.”

Feeding animals at this point would delay the inevitable, Hampton said.

Deer and elk populations have swollen, mostly because of mild winters the last eight years.

“This is a real Colorado winter, and we get these from time to time, but people forget,” Hampton said.

Eventual decline in inflated animal populations is normal and seen with all species.

“This is how Mother Nature manages populations on her own,” Hampton said. “We could all go out there and feed (the animals) every winter, but that’s not nature anymore.”

DOW officials have sought input from ranchers on the current situation, he said.

“We have talked to some ranchers, long-time residents there (in Moffat County),” Hampton said, “and they have told us we do not need to be feeding.”

Winter does push animals closer to town, and hard winters push more of them, he said.

If landowners experience property damage issues, the DOW will work with them to “alleviate those issues,” he added.

In those cases, the DOW can furnish paneling to box in hay stores – which Ages said were provided and do work – and also noise makers to scare off any large animals, Hampton said.

All winters are harsh for wildlife, he said. The big difference this year is that normal die-off is happening where people can see it, he added.

DOW officials monitor animal populations daily, Hampton said.

The agency uses various techniques to watch wildlife, including flyovers to track migration patterns, having biologists check animal coat conditions and testing the bone marrow from road kill to determine what nutrients animals can get and are missing.

DOW also has study collars within herds to track wildlife, Hampton added.

If the situation worsens, the DOW will be able to step in and help wildlife if that is needed, he said.

“We are not seeing any additional mortality at this time, not anymore than in a typical winter,” Hampton said.

“With the multiple methods of monitoring we’re doing, we certainly believe we’ll be able to intervene when we need to.”

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