Mule deer survey aims to improve prospects

RBC I As part of ongoing studies, about 500 mule deer in the Piceance Basin and Meeker area will be gathered up and examined over the next two weeks.
“We’ll be examining mitigation methods designed to benefit mule deer,” said Randy Hampton, the Division of Wildlife public information officer for northwest Colorado.
The deer — does and fawns — will be netted from a helicopter, transported to a staging area, examined and then released.
“They will be assessing the animal’s health and then attaching radio collars,” Hampton said. “You basically immobilize the deer, do certain body condition measurements, put a collar on it, and then let it go on site.”
Steps will be taken to minimize stress to the animals.
“It can be stressful on the deer, so there are protocols that attempt to minimize those (stresses),” Hampton said.
The capturing of deer will be part of study — done in cooperation with energy companies — to examine ways to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to wildlife and habitat. The study was initiated in April 2008.
The DOW, along with the Bureau of Land Management and energy companies, is involved in the study.
“We want to advise energy companies on ways to minimize their impacts,” Ron Velarde, northwest regional manager for the DOW, said at the time the study was announced. “… our role is to make sure that the wildlife survives and thrives while this is occurring and after the gas is gone.”
Called the Central Piceance Basin Project, the study has an estimated cost of $1.3 million annually over the next five to 10 years.
Other contributors to the project include the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, the Colorado Mule Deer Association and the Mule Deer Foundation. Major energy players in the Piceance Basin, such as EnCana, Shell and Williams also pledged financial support, along with smaller companies.
“Close coordination from the beginning and continued flexibility from all partners will ensure this research provides the most useful information to best minimize future impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat,” Kent Walter, field manager for the BLM’s White River Field Office in Meeker, said when the project was announced.
According to a 2002 study commissioned by the DOW, big-game hunting contributes more than $1 million annually to the economies of Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.
“Hunters are generally from outside of the area and, unlike other revenue streams, hunters’ activities generate revenue year after year without burdening government services and infrastructure,” the DOW reported when the study was announced.
“Thousands of deer utilize the Piceance Basin during the year,” the DOW report stated. “In the winter, this critical area becomes home to even more deer as herds from the surrounding mountain areas move into the lower parts of the basin in search of food and relief from the snow.
“In addition to the deer population, biologists estimate that about 9,000 elk call the Piceance Basin home year around. Thousands more elk winter in the basin’s lower-elevation lands before returning to higher ground for the summer.”