District big game herds do extremely well over the winter

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RBC I “This was a great winter for the wildlife in the district — perhaps the best I can remember,” said Bill deVergie, the district wildlife manager for the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife in Meeker.

For the elk, deer, bears, moose and even the occasional antelope and bighorn sheep in the district, the early October cold snap with temperatures reported at roughly 30-below zero had no ill effects on any of the herds, deVergie said, adding that being aided by a cooler-than-normal May, a slowed runoff is likely to benefit the wild game with plenty of excellent forage later than normal.
“As short of water as the southwest corner of the state is with drought, we are almost the opposite,” he said. “We still have a lot of snow up high, (reported by Channel 2 in Denver on Monday as 137 percent of normal for Northwest Colorado) and less than two weeks ago we were roughly at 125 percent of the normal amount of moisture, so the wildlife as well as the forage are benefitting from that.”
The elk had a “great winter and good survival rate,” deVergie said, adding that the animals stayed higher than expected.
“I feel it was as good as a winter has been in many years” he said. “There is lots of water, it has been fairly warm and the elk are moving back up the mountains as we speak because it has been cool down here and there is no reason for them to hurry up to the higher altitudes.”
deVergie said there was a slightly lower harvest with the elk this past season because they stayed so high for such a long time. He added that there might be an increase in the herds this year and that the important factors appear great for survival as the elk are just now starting to have their calves.
“Overall, we couldn’t have scripted a better winter for the game in our district,” he said. “Forage is phenomenal, and when you have lots of water and great forage, the animals are going to do really well.”
deVergie said “the deer are faring really well, too.”
He said that the fawn survival rate is looking higher than normal and that there are good numbers in the Rio Blanco District, “Particularly north of Craig, west to the Yampa River and all the way to the Wyoming border.”
South, he said, the numbers also look good from the Little Snake River to the Piceance Creek area.
“Forage is excellent and that follows a winter that was really pretty easy on the animals as it wasn’t too cold for any kind of a prolonged amount of time,” deVergie said.
“Predation by lions was not above normal and we still see good numbers,” he said, noting that the does should begin calving the first or second weeks of June, and “all looks good on that front.
Regarding the bears in the district, deVergie said, “Most are out of their dens and are up and moving.”
He said the bears did the normal amount of predation on the bighorn sheep in the district, but, he said, “we haven’t yet had any reports of damage done by the bears this spring.”
He did say that hunters “got after the bears in the fall” and harvested quite a few, but that he expects that the numbers around the district will still be quite high this fall.
“I’d say it is likely that there will be an increase in tags this fall because we want to increase the pressure on them,” he said. “We had a lot of good bears last year and even though the hunters got after them, there are still going to be plenty of good bears available again this year.
“The forage for the bears is also very good, and I look for some big healthy bears in the district this fall,” he said.
The moose population did particularly well this past winter, and it appears there will be a good increase in population, deVergie said, noting that there were a lot of cows and calves that survived in good fashion.
“The bulls are also looking really good,” he said. “We saw quite a few good-sized bulls last year, and every year they get bigger and more numerous.”
Last year, the CPW issued four moose permits for the district and all four tag holders were able to harvest their moose.
Asked if there is going to be a likely increase in the number of tags this year, deVergie said, “Not this year, but there is a good chance there may be an increase next year.”
The few antelope that do enter the district also fared well over the winter.
“We have some antelope in the area although they are not common,” deVergie said. “There are some antelope north and west of Maybell, and they don’t ordinarily enter the area around here.
“I understand they had a good winter as well, and I see no problem with them expanding their range on occasion,” he said. “I see no negatives with them regarding the past winter or the upcoming summer.”
deVergie did note one possible negative factor for all the animals, and that would be if we dry out quickly.
“It has been a bit windy, and that speeds up the snowmelt and the drying of the forage,” he said. “If we get really a hot and windy June and July, it could lead to an unfortunate fire season.
“But with all the snow still up high and the much cooler days and nights than are normal in May, then the forage should remain in good shape well into the summer,” deVergie said. “Right now, looking at al the factors, conditions are good for everything, including the wildlife and the forage.”