Deer and elk harvest still strong in valley
Hunters harvested 1,396 elk and 619 deer last fall from the four game-management units surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley, the Colorado Division of Wildlife reported this week.
The numbers were consistent with annual hunting statistics since 2006, the wildlife division’s website showed. The harvest count includes all methods of take – archery, muzzle loading and four rifle seasons. The deer numbers reflect one less rifle season.
DOW Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will said the harvest numbers show there are still good hunting opportunities around the Roaring Fork Valley. “The harvest hasn’t changed all that much,” he said.
The most prodigious area for elk and deer hunting remains game management unit 43, which is on the south side of Highway 82 from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, and includes the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, southwest of Aspen. There were 726 elk taken out of that area last fall along with 287 deer. There were 3,396 elk hunters, so the success rate was 21 percent, the wildlife division’s estimates showed. The 861 deer hunters had a 33 percent success rate.
Game management unit 444 had the second highest level of activity in the Roaring Fork Valley. That unit stretches from north of Fryingpan Road up to Dotsero, and includes the area northeast of Highway 82 over to Red Table Mountain.
There were 424 elk and 274 deer harvested from unit 444, the wildlife division reported. Deer hunters had a success rate of 42 percent while one in five hunters got an elk.
Hunting was tougher in two game management units in eastern Pitkin County. Unit 47 runs from Independence Pass on the north side of Highway 82 up to Basalt and Ruedi Reservoir, south of Fryingpan Road. There were 198 elk harvested by hunters with a 20 percent success rate. There were 55 deer harvested with a 28 percent success rate for hunters.
Unit 471 includes is comprised largely of wilderness, requiring hunters to stay off all-terrain vehicles. The unit is southeast of Aspen, to the south of Highway 82 as it climbs Independence Pass. There were 48 elk and three deer harvested from that unit. Elk hunters had a success rate of 15 percent; only 2 percent of deer hunters found their mark.
While the harvest numbers remain strong, Will said the wildlife division is concerned about deer and elk herd populations. The birth rate has dropped from 50 calves per 100 cow elk in prior years to 30 calves since the mid-2000s.
“It’s definitely not panic mode, but it is cause for concern,” Will said.
Wildlife experts suspect a cumulative effect of several activities is lowering that birth rate. A higher human population in the valley has been accompanied by an explosion in recreation in the backcountry, Will said. More people means more dogs, which often harass or at least stress wildlife, he said.
Increased development in rural areas also brings more roads, fences and areas of disturbance for deer and elk to contend with, Will said. Those various issues can stress big game and lead to lower birth rates.
In addition, the wildlife division says the Roaring Fork Valley can no longer provide habitat to support deer and elk herds at historic numbers. The condition of the winter range, in particular, has declined, according to Will.
That will likely mean an increase in hunting licenses issued, at least for the short-term, to reduce populations.
An increase in habitat is on the horizon. The White River National Forest Supervisor’s Office is working on a plan to improve habitat on 50,000 acres around the Roaring Fork Valley, using prescribed burns and mechanical treatment of vegetation.
“I can’t say enough about the Forest Service stepping forward and doing some of that habitat work,” Will said. “We support it 110 percent.”
Elk hunting continues to be Colorado’s biggest draw. More than 214,000 elk hunters were in the field statewide last fall, the wildlife division said. With a 22 percent success rate, those hunters harvested 48,018 elk.
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