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Mild weather holds back migration

John Gardner
jgardner@postindependent.com
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceElk and deer, along with other wildlife, reaped the benefits of plentiful food and water after last winter's snow. The available food and warm fall weather disrupted migration patterns and allowed wildlife to remain at higher elevations through much of the hunting seasons.
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GARFIELD COUNTY ” Unusually warm fall temperatures in northwestern Colorado has the Colorado Division of Wildlife anticipating lower harvest statistics for hunters this year.

According to DOW spokesman Randy Hampton the warm weather allowed elk and deer populations to remain at higher elevations through the fourth, and final, rifle season.

The DOW won’t have official harvest numbers until after the harvest surveys are completed in March. However, Hampton said that he wouldn’t be surprised to hear of lower success rates.



“We are hearing that people were a little less successful this year than in previous years,” Hampton said.

One major factor for the animals staying at higher elevations was because the heavy snowfalls last winter created an abundance of both available food and water for animals. The less food and water available, elk and deer herds will gather at fewer places in larger populations. But, with more options, the wildlife spread out and remain in smaller populations.



“What we’ve heard were concerns, with last winter’s heavy snow, that a lot of animals had died off,” Hampton said. “That is not the case.”

Instead, with the abundance of food and water, the warm weather also allowed the herds to remain at higher ” summer range ” elevations, causing hunters to change the patterns they’ve grown accustom to.

“It takes winter weather to move animals from summer to winter range in the valley floors,” Hampton said. “We just haven’t had that this year.”

Over the past eight to nine years northwestern Colorado has been in a drought, according to Hampton. That caused elk and deer herds to stay mainly in large drainages for food and water.

Other evidence to support that theory was seen in the fall of 2007, with many occurrences of bears coming to find food in towns and neighborhoods. That also didn’t happen much this year.

Just like wildlife, Hampton said, “Hunters are creatures of habit.”

Hunters will return to a place they were previously successful, because they are familiar with the area and with the wildlife patterns. But when those patterns are disrupted it makes it difficult for the hunters.

Battlement Mesa Outfitters’ Ron Lewis said that personally he hadn’t seen much of a difference in his client’s success rate, however it’s Lewis’ job to know where the animals are.

“We watch the animals all summer long,” Lewis said. “So we have a pattern on them from Spring right into hunting season.”

But, Lewis agreed that out-of-state hunters, who had anticipated herds to use typical migration patterns, may have had a tough time this year because they would have had to go higher up in elevation to get to the animals.

“Absolutely, because a lot of times they can’t get up high,” Lewis said. “If they’ve got animals or four wheelers, they can ride up there, but if they don’t have any equipment to ride to the top, it’s a long walk.”

Not only that, but if they do bag an animal, it’s a lot more difficult to haul it out on their own two feet.

Hampton said that DOW biologists tracking elk and deer recorded herds near Meadow Creek Lake, on top of the Flat Tops north of Interstate 70 in Garfield County, nearly one month after their usual migration period.

“It’s a full four weeks after the migration,” Hampton said. “We did see the beginning of the migration weather, but it was well behind schedule.”

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114

jgardner@postindependent.com


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