State of the Herds: Mule deer update

Elk update

While elk herd numbers in western Colorado are faring better than deer, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has attempted to reduced their numbers on purpose to better meet healthy population goals. “Overall, the herds are healthy,” said Mike Porras, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer. “But we intentionally have fewer elk than we did 10 to 15 years ago because we’ve reduced many herds to meet our population objectives. The hunting is still very good, and we still have very productive herds, but they’re just somewhat smaller than they were at their peak in the 1990s.”

Unlike the commission’s management of the deer population by reducing license quotas, Porras added that elk hunting options still abound. “There is still plenty of license opportunity for anyone who wants to hunt elk,” he said.

Herd numbers in the western region are encouraging. The Bears Ears herd (Units 3, 4, 5, 14, 214, 301 and 441) stands at 15,810 animals with an objective of 15,000; the White River herd (Units 11, 12, 13, 23, 24, 25, 26, 33, 34, 131, 211 and 231) is sitting at 35,89, with an objective of 32,000; and the Gore Pass herd (Units 15 and 27) is at 4,540 animals with an objective of 4,500.

“The elk numbers in western Colorado are healthy,” added Porras. “It should be a great hunting season.”

Deer numbers are dropping in western Colorado. That’s the report from Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, the game managers of which are dropping the number of hunting licenses available to help combat the decreasing number of deer.

Hoping to stem the decline, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has trimmed the number of hunting licenses it issues statewide by almost 6 percent for 2012. Wildlife managers will issue 79,800 limited deer licenses during the 2012 fall big-game hunting season. The current population is about 418,000 compared with 430,000 a year ago.

Wildlife managers say more than hunting pressure has put deer herds on the Western Slope on the decline. The drop, they say, is the result of the degradation of deer habit from a variety of human activities.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said his agency’s challenge with deer is the opposite of how it traditionally manages elk herds through hunting licenses. While Division Parks and Wildlife has managed hunting for elk to reduce the herds to levels their range can sustain, it has tried to bolster deer numbers by curtailing their harvest.

In the range of the Bears Ears mule deer herd, the number of hunting licenses for deer will be reduced in 2012 in an effort to boost the overall herd up to 32,000 from 31,110, Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins said. The Bears Ears herd takes in seven game management units in the Park and Elkhead mountain ranges straddling Routt and Moffat counties.

The number of available antler-less permits will be decreased by 21 percent from 803 to 634, Haskins said. The number of either-sex permits will drop 19 percent from 1,300 to 1,050, and the number of permits for bucks will drop 30 percent from 3,043 to 2,120.

The straightest path to increasing herd fertility rates may be to reduce the number of licenses that allow shooting a doe, but Haskins said the reduction in buck permits was undertaken to restore the balance of mature male deer to the population. That’s being done to satisfy hunters’ desires to have more quality bucks in the herd.

Although the number of this year’s doe permits is just a shadow of what it was a decade ago, wildlife biologists have learned that reducing hunting pressure won’t be enough to restore herds to previous numbers. While some sportsmen say predators like coyotes are an obvious cause for the population decline, wildlife biologists think habitat disruption, from road building to energy exploration, is a more likely culprit. The severity of winter, including the snowpack, also plays a role, Haskin said. “When we have a bad winter out West, it really sets the deer back,” Haskin said.

Regardless, despite continued reduction in licenses year after year, the herds continue to decline, meaning you should appreciate the successful filling of your tag even more.