Oh deer! Wildlife officials can’t coax increase in Basalt, Glenwood deer herd population | AspenTimes.com

Oh deer! Wildlife officials can’t coax increase in Basalt, Glenwood deer herd population

Colorado Parks and Wildlife might abandon a restriction on doe licenses in the middle and lower Roaring Fork Valley because it didn't help the deer population increase.

CPW "sharply reduced" the number of hunting licenses issued for does in game management 444 in 2015. The deer population had plunged after the severe winter of 2007-08, so agency officials felt that reducing hunting for does would help the numbers bounce back. It didn't work out.

Now, wildlife officials are working on the first update since 1995 for a Mule Deer Herd Management Plan for unit 444. The 371-square-mile game management unit surrounds Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and the Fryingpan Valley. A public meeting will be held in Glenwood Springs on Wednesday night to discuss the draft plan.

The 1995 plan set an objective of 5,300 deer across that vast area. The population steadily increased and exceeded the objective annually from 2003 to 2007, according to the agency's estimates, but then Mother Nature threw a curveball.

"The population declined after the severe winter of 2007-08 and, much like other neighboring deer populations in the area, has never recovered," said the draft plan.

The population plummeted in 2008, recovered a bit the next year but has been on a slow decline since 2009. The post-hunt population was estimated at 4,370 deer last year, about 18 percent below the objective.

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The problem concerned the agency enough that in 2015 it sharply reduced the doe quotas to try to revive the population, according to the management plan.

Now, the CPW staff is recommending ending that restriction on hunting licenses for does and setting a broader objective for the herd population. The staff is proposing to adjust the objective range to 4,000 to 6,000.

"Under (the preferred alternative) the deer population size would remain at roughly its current level or slightly higher," the draft plan said. "Doe license quotas could be raised to pre-2015 levels. Buck license quotas would probably remain similar, although it will depend on which sex ratio objective is selected."

The 1995 plan set an objective of 30 bucks per 100 does. But the three-year average between 2013 to 2015 showed the ratio was 42 bucks per 100 does.

The staff is recommending reducing the buck ratio to a range of 32 to 40 bucks per 100 does. It considered reducing the ratios even further so that bucks wouldn't compete with fawns and does for forage and space, but decided against those options.

"The current fawn ratio is only sufficient to maintain the population, but is not high enough to yield population growth," the plan said.

Either the population objective needs to be revised or there must be an increase in buck harvest to reduce competition with fawns. The plan proposes a blend of those objectives.

The preferred alternative "would balance the hunting public's desire for quality bucks while still maintaining enough buck licenses to provide hunting opportunities every year or few years," the draft plan said.

Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will said that the health of the deer herd in the unit is "moderate, not great." While the numbers aren't increasing, the herd hasn't shown signs of chronic wasting disease, which has affected other herds in the state, he noted.

There are a lot of "stressors" on the herd, including development, recreation and predation, Will said.

"Predation has increased from lion, bear, coyote, everything," he said.

The draft plan said one-third of the private land in the unit was converted from open space or rural density to some level of greater development between 1970 and 2010.

Meanwhile, an explosion of recreation over the past decade in the growing valley has created a "major wildlife management concern."

"This heightened level of human activity on the landscape is a disturbance to deer and other wildlife, particularly during winter and fawning period," the plan said.

CPW and other land-management agencies have adopted seasonal closures to benefit wildlife.

"It is important for recreationists to be aware of their potential impacts on wildlife, to follow the seasonal closure dates and to encourage their peers to do so, as well," the plan said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will hold a public meeting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at its Glenwood Springs office to discuss the deer herd management draft plan for the middle and lower Roaring Fork Valley and part of the Fryingpan Valley.

The meeting isn’t just for hunters.

“Area resident, as well as the businesses that see the benefit from big game hunting, should all consider how these plans may affect them,” Perry Will, area wildlife manager, said in a statement. “Everything from hotels and restaurants to sporting goods stores and game processors should know that they have the opportunity to voice their opinions on our plans.”

The meeting will be held at CPW’s facility at 88 Wildlife Way in Glenwood Springs.

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