Don’t disturb wildlife in the winter |

Don’t disturb wildlife in the winter

Elk lounge last winter at Crystal River Ranch outside Carbondale.
Randy Essex / Post Independent |

Snow, cold, wind, a lack of food — those are just some of the difficult conditions that Colorado’s wildlife face during the winter. People may also cause problems for wild critters and Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks residents to avoid disturbing wildlife during the cold-weather months.

“Wildlife are uniquely adapted to survive the winter, and by understanding the animals’ biology, people can help wildlife survive the winter,” said Patt Dorsey, Southwest Region manager for CPW in Durango.

All wildlife feel winter’s effects, but big game animals — deer, elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep — are often most visible and vulnerable during the winter. During the warm months, big game find abundant high-quality food, which allows them to develop the fat stores they need to survive the winter. In winter, food is less available and is of poor quality. Big-game animals burn stored fat and lose weight throughout the cold months.

“They are essentially in a starvation mode and any disturbance means they will burn extra calories they need to survive,” Dorsey said.

Throughout Colorado, CPW and other land management agencies restrict access to areas with high concentrations of wintering big game. These “winter range” areas are critical for the animals’ survival.

CPW asks people to understand the demands that winter places on wildlife and to minimize disturbances that stress wintering animals. If animals appear alerted to your presence or start to move away, you are too close and forcing them to burn energy. Big game is very sensitive to disturbances of any kind. Even while engaged in quiet activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, or taking photographs, people will disturb big game if they are nearby.

Another problem during the winter is dogs chasing and killing wildlife. When dogs see deer or elk, some of them react to their natural instincts and give chase. Law enforcement officers are authorized to shoot dogs that are seen harassing wildlife. CPW asks that pet owners keep their dogs secure and not allow them to run unattended.

Some people also are tempted to feed big game. But putting out food for big game is illegal, and because animals are not adapted to foods such as hay, it can kill them.

“We love to see our wildlife in Colorado; and I know we can count on Coloradans to give them the space they need to survive the critical winter months,” Dorsey said.

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