Local deer herd in fine shape
July 26, 2009
A major deer herd that roams from the Kremmling area into the Lower Blue Valley at the north end of Summit County is holding steady at a population of about 10,500.
Next week, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is looking for public input on management of the herd for the next 10 years.
“It’s a low-key process,” said Lyle Sidener, Hot Sulphur Springs-based wildlife manager for Summit and Grand counties.
“Hunters always want more and bigger deer,” Sidener said, adding that, overall, the public appears satisfied with current management practices.
Managing the herd involves balancing the number of bucks and does. The wildlife agency generally accomplishes those goals by the way it allocates licenses.
The other key limiting factor for the Middle Park herd is the amount of winter habitat, generally in the valley floors around Kremmling, Sidener said.
Along with the healthy numbers of deer, Sidener said the herd has remained relatively unaffected by chronic wasting disease, a degenerative nervous system ailment that caused a scare among wildlife managers and hunters a few years ago.
In this part of Colorado, only about 1 percent of the herd has been hit by the disease. By contrast, up to 20 percent of some herds along the Front Range have been infected. Sidener said harsh winters in the High Country probably help limit the spread of chronic wasting disease. On the Front Range, milder conditions and higher concentrations of deer have led to greater infection rates.
Sidener said that, for now, the target remains to keep the herd at about 10,500.
“We’ve got a good handle on the population. We’d like to hear from land owners, sportsmen and other agencies if they agree with us – should it be larger, smaller or stay the same,” Sidener said.
The current status of the herd is a positive turnaround from the 1970s and 1980s, when impacts to habitat and the issuance of unlimited licenses led to a population decline. In 1999, the wildlife agency changed over to a system of strictly limited licenses that helped game managers recover the herd.
“Herd size is a function of biology, but it is also a function of what the public desires for a population,” said Ron Velarde, regional manager for northwest Colorado. “While the Division of Wildlife is well-suited to make biological decisions, we need public input to determine if larger or smaller herds would be acceptable.”
Sportsmen, outfitters, business owners and landowners all have a vested interest in the big game populations in an area. Sportsmen may want larger herds for increased hunting opportunity or male-female ratios that create bigger bucks but less hunting opportunity. Outfitters and hunting-tourism dependent businesses like hotels and restaurants may want increased hunting opportunities that bring more hunters to an area, the division explained in a press release.
Some landowners may want decreased herd sizes to limit damage to crops and fences, while other landowners may want herd gender ratios that promote bigger bucks and result in more desirable private land licenses they can sell to hunters.
The deer plans are based on wildlife management principles and public input and are revised about every 10 years. To aid the public in discussion, several management alternatives will be presented at the public meetings. The alternatives cover increasing or decreasing overall herd size and male-female ratios or leaving the populations and gender ratios at their current levels. The benefits and drawbacks to each alternative will be presented.