Changes in store for deer hunting in portion of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties | AspenTimes.com

Changes in store for deer hunting in portion of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties

Alex Zorn
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Deer head into charred terrain of the Basalt State Wildlife Area after leaving an alfalfa field that survived intact.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have decided to alter the deer herd management plans for two key management units covering parts of Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, possibly allowing for more doe licenses.

The changes are for Game Management Unit 44, the Brush Creek Herd, and Game Management Unit 444, the Basalt Herd. The change, which is the first in 23 years, is due to an inability to grow deer herd numbers in the area in recent years.

CPW Biologist Juile Mao said at a public meeting held in Glenwood Springs on Wednesday night that the last time the agency updated the herd management plan was when they were established in 1995.

According to CPW data, the Brush Creek Herd has had an objective of 7,000 deer since 1995, while last year’s estimate had the herd at 2,323. Mao admitted it wasn’t a realistic objective to begin with.

Instead, officials are proposing to set the objective around a range rather than a set number. Officials have proposed three alternate ranges with the preferred range at 1,500 to 3,500 deer from now on.

The Basalt deer herd has done much better compared with the objective, with a population estimate at 4,370 deer compared with the objective of 5,300 deer.

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However, officials are proposing several potential ranges for the herd with an objective of 4,000 to 6,000 deer as their preferred option.

Mao said the purpose of management plans is to set the population and sex ratio objective in place for the next 10 years.

Matt Yamashita, CPW district wildlife manager for the Basalt area, said when officials poll the public they hear from hunters that they want more deer and buck, but those objectives are not always compatible.

A higher buck ratio can result in lower fawn ratios because, if there are more bucks, they will compete with younger fawns for resources which can lower population growth, he said.

According to Mao, low and stagnant deer populations have kept the officials from growing both herds. Causes to the low population include human disturbance, recreation impacts, behavioral stressors, habitat fragmentation and more.

Many in the audience during Wednesday night’s meeting wanted to know what impact predation has had on the deer population.

“We don’t have direct numbers to know how much predation is affecting the population,” Mao said.

She said predation can be expensive to monitor and difficult to survey.

Attendees also discussed impacts recreation activities, like mountain biking, have on the numbers.