Deer licenses to be restricted this year |

Deer licenses to be restricted this year

Jeremy Heiman

A declining deer population has led the Colorado Wildlife Commission to limit the number of mule deer hunting licenses for the first time in decades.

Regulations approved last week by the Wildlife Commission also eliminate either-sex elk licenses for the coming season.

Hunters must apply for deer licenses from the DOW by April 6. Last year, deer licenses were available over the counter.

A DOW release says the decision by the Wildlife Commission is widely supported by both hunters and conservationists as a step necessary to restore Colorado’s deer herds.

Craig Wescoatt, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Glenwood Springs, said deer populations have declined throughout the western United States in recent years.

“We’re seeing a variety of reasons for that,” Wescoatt said. But a major reason for the decline is that habitat has changed to favor elk, which are grazers, over deer, which browse on bushes and shrubs. Brush habitat has been converted both to forest and to forbs (low broad-leaf plants) and grasses, he said.

Wescoatt said there are both human and natural causes for the deer-habitat loss. A considerable amount of brushland and streamside habitat used by deer has been lost to development in the Roaring Fork Valley. Also, some prescribed burning of brush intended to provide elk habitat has reduced deer habitat.

The natural aging of ecosystems, Wescoatt said, has also reduced the number of deer, as trees begin to “shade out” brush, blocking needed sunlight. Brush ecosystems that were healthy in the 1950s and 1960s are now past prime, and are being taken over by forest.

This year cow elk licenses will be issued through a limited license drawing, while an unlimited number of bull elk licenses will be sold over the counter in most areas of Colorado. This differs from last year’s system, which offered either-sex licenses on an experimental basis.

The Wildlife Commission ruled the either-sex licenses should be discontinued because the data from last year’s hunt has not been reviewed by state biologists, according to the DOW release. Winter censuses are under way to determine whether the either-sex licenses resulted in the desired reduction of elk numbers.

Wescoatt said elk herds in some parts of the state exceed the level the DOW believes would be in balance with the habitat that’s available.

The commission also changed regulations relating to muzzle-loading rifles; so-called “inline” muzzle loaders will be allowed this year. Wescoatt said a prohibition will remain on the type of replica rifle that uses cartridges and actually loads from the breach rather than the muzzle.

Bear-hunting regulations also have undergone a change. Wescoatt said hunters may purchase bear licenses that coincide with any of the five deer and elk seasons this fall. Bear can only be hunted with the same weapons allowed for hunting deer or elk. There will be three separate rifle seasons.

Wescoatt said each of the mule deer seasons will last only five days this year.

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