Inventory underway for Colorado Parks and Wildlife | AspenTimes.com

Inventory underway for Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Staff report

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is alerting people that they shouldn't be alarmed if they see aircraft flying over backcountry wildlife habitat over the next few months.

Researchers and biologists with the agency will conduct their big-game count from early-December through late-March. The aircraft will fly them over large swaths of habitat so spotters can classify big game by sex and age while others collect biological data on the ground.

"Late-season hunters and outdoor recreationists are advised that they may see low-flying helicopters or airplanes and are urged to be patient while critical monitoring is conducted," said a statement from the wildlife division.

In addition to conducting the inventory, Parks and Wildlife employees will coordinate the helicopter capture of 75 elk, 90 moose, 20 desert bighorn sheep, 25 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and 1,300 mule deer. The animals will be fitted with radio collars and released. The deer will include 800 does, 400 fawns and 100 bucks.

The data that will be collected will help track the progress of several wildlife-management efforts and ongoing studies. They also will provide a picture of overall health of big game. That will allow wildlife managers to form population models, update management studies and set future hunting license numbers.

The operation is known as capture-and-collar. A preferred method for researchers is to capture ungulates by "net-gunning," which involves the use of a net launched from above. The tactic by skilled helicopter crews can safely and effectively immobilize an animal. Biological data can be gathered and the animal can be fitted with a GPS or radio collar at the capture site, allowing for its release in a matter of minutes.

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Alternatively, the animal can be carefully lifted and delivered to a nearby base camp where a contingent of researchers, veterinarians and volunteers gather blood samples and record body condition, weight, age and sex. A collar is then placed on the animal before it is released.

For more information, visit http://www.wildlife.state.co.us/Research/Pages/Research.aspx.