Visiting wildlife don’t want to make friends: Winter conditions bring deer and elk to town, but humans need to keep their distance
Eagle Valley Enterprise
EAGLE — Living in Eagle County means sharing the community with some large, four-legged neighbors during the winter months.
As temperatures drop and snow piles up, deer and elk become frequent visitors around town. But just because they are hanging out nearby doesn’t mean they want to be friendly.
“Please respect the animals. If they are present, try to keep your distance,” said Craig Wescoatt of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Don’t walk right up to them to try to take a photo and please don’t let your dog harass the wildlife.”
Wescoatt noted that elk are more likely to congregate in larger herds for the winter months, but deer splinter off into small groups. He said there are a number of “town deer” around the valley — animals who winter in residential areas.
“The towns have become their habitat,” Wescoatt said. “That is where they were born and raised and they don’t know any different.”
But just because they hang out around town doesn’t mean these animals are pets and Wescoatt stressed humans shouldn’t attempt to treat them like they are.
A statement from Colorado Parks and Wildlife notes that snow, cold, wind and a lack of food are some of the difficult conditions that Colorado’s wildlife face during the winter. In addition to those risks, humans present a whole new set of problems.
“Wildlife are uniquely adapted to survive the winter; and by understanding the animals’ biology, people can help wildlife survive the winter,” said Patt Dorsey, Southwest region manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
All wildlife feel winter’s effects, but big game animals — deer, elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep — are often most visible and vulnerable during the winter. During the warm months, big game find abundant, high-quality food that allows them to develop the fat stores they need to survive the winter. In winter, food is less available and of poor quality. Big-game animals burn stored fat and lose weight throughout the cold months.
“They are essentially in a starvation mode, and any disturbance means they will burn extra calories they need to survive,” Dorsey said.
Throughout the state, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other land-management agencies restrict access to areas with high concentrations of wintering big game. These winter-range areas are critical for the animals’ survival.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks people to understand the demands that winter places on wildlife and to minimize disturbances that stress wintering animals. If animals appear alerted to your presence or start to move away, you are too close and forcing them to burn energy. Big game is very sensitive to disturbances of any kind. Even while engaged in quiet activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking or taking photographs, people will disturb big game if they are nearby.
Another problem during the winter is dogs chasing and killing wildlife. When dogs see deer or elk some of them react to their natural instincts and give chase. Law enforcement officers are authorized to shoot dogs that are seen harassing wildlife. Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks that pet owners keep their dogs secure and not allow them to run unattended.
Some people are tempted to feed big game. But putting out food for big game is illegal, and because animals are not adapted to food such as hay, it can kill them.
“We love to see our wildlife in Colorado; and I know we can count on Coloradans to give them the space they need to survive the critical winter months,” Dorsey said.
For more information, visit http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/do-not-feed-wildlife.aspx.
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