DOW forced to feed deer in Eagle County
Eagle County Correspondent
EAGLE COUNTY ” Because of a harsh and snowy winter, wildlife managers will start feeding starving deer near Eagle and Wolcott for just the third time in almost 25 years.
The consistent, heavy snowfall that’s been so good for the ski slopes has covered up the small plants and shrubs, like sage brush, that deer eat in the winter. Deer don’t store as much fat as elk, so those plants that poke up through the snow are vital to their survival.
Now, the deer are hungry enough to start stripping juniper trees, which have almost no nutrition. It’s a sure sign of desperation, says Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife.
The Division of Wildlife will only consider feeding animals if there’s a chance more than 30 percent of adult female deer will die in a winter. This has only happened in the winters of 1983-1984 and 1996-1997, and it looks like that could happen.
So, deer will be feed at 20 locations around Eagle and Wolcott, and the Division of Wildlife will need volunteers and money to do it, Hampton said.
The feed alone will cost around $120,000.
No matter how mild a winter may be, cold weather is always tough for animals.
“Some animals will always die during winter, typically the very young, the very old, and the ones that may be sick,” Hampton said.
But for the past 12 years, many of these deer haven’t experienced a truly tough Colorado winter, Hampton said. So, when deer seek out those mountain valleys where they’ve found winter food in the past, they’ve found almost nothing this year and are often trapped in these valleys by towering snow drifts.
When the deer aren’t trapped, they’ll be venturing past their comfort zones looking for food, which means they’ll be coming closer to roads, homes and humans. Seeing a starving, bony deer can be an unsettling sight to many people, Hampton said.
“Some people are upset by it, and others understand it, but at that point, there’s not much we can do about it,” Hampton said.
Elk are having a tough winter as well. Earlier this winter, the Division of Wildlife started a “baiting program” to help ranchers deal with hungry elk digging into their hay stacks.
Because the elk are desperate for food, they’re tearing into to the stacks of hay that feed horses and cattle. The Division of Wildlife is replacing some of this hay for the ranchers and even giving them some extra to strategically place and move the elk away from where the cattle feed.
“We’ll put out some additional hay to make sure the horses and cows get what they need and so the elk won’t be fighting with these animals,” said Craig Wescoatt, the district wildlife manager.
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