Middle Park herds in good shape for big game seasons | SkyHiNews.com

Middle Park herds in good shape for big game seasons

(Photo by Byron Hetzler)
ALL | Grand County Newspapers

Hunters coming to Middle Park for the deer and elk seasons this fall should find plenty of game.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) reports that Middle Park has an estimated deer population of 12,000. For the local elk population within its designated hunting areas, DOW estimates about 8,500 animals.

“We had a more serious winter last year than for the past several winters,” said Lyle Sidener, area wildlife manager at DOW’s Hot Sulphur Springs office. “We had a higher mortality rate for deer last winter, but it was not overwhelming. As for the elk, they usually fare better than the deer.”

One factor that contributed to survivability of the large number of animals in the local herds is an unexpected side effect from the ongoing pine beetle epidemic.

“The herds, especially the elk, are benefiting from all this beetle kill,” Sidener said.

Sidener explained that when the trees die and their pine needles are lost, it opens up the forest floor to more sunlight and moisture. This has resulted in more grass and other vegetation growing in areas where little grew before.

“In healthy lodgepole pine forests, you wouldn’t find much vegetation on the forest floor,” he said. “Now we’re seeing a real flush of grass where there wasn’t much previously.”

Sidener said this is also affecting the distribution of the herds. In the past, the deer and elk would be found primarily in meadow areas where the grass grew. Now that the pine beetles have killed off so many lodgepole pines, the herds are spending more time in wooded areas.

In determining the number of hunting licenses to be issued for Middle Park, Sidener explained the DOW has established “herd objectives” for a Data Analysis Unit (DAU), which is made up of a group of Game Management Units (GMU) to manage the deer and elk populations to ensure they stay at healthy levels.

Long term objectives are reviewed every 10 years with public and land management agency input, and aerial survey counts are taken of the local herds during the winter.

“Based upon those surveys, we make recommendations for the number of licenses to be issued for the next hunting season,” he said. “Our goal is to get to the herd objectives that DOW sets for an area.”

For managing the deer population in the Middle Park DAU, DOW has divided it up into eight Game Management Units (18, 27, 28, 37, 181 and 371). While primarily Grand and Summit counties, they also have small portions of Routt and Eagle counties.

With an estimated deer population of 12,000 in Middle Park after last year’s hunting season, DOW has set a herd objective of 10,500. To help achieve that goal, 4,000 licenses have been issued for this hunting season in the eight GMUs.

In comparison, elk in Grand County are managed as two different DAUs. The Williams Fork DAU has an estimated elk population of 5,000 animals. DOW has set its herd objective at 3,000. To reach that objective, 4,500 licenses are being issued for it.

For the Troublesome DAU, the elk population is estimated at 3,500 animals. DOW’s herd objective for it is 2,700. A total of 4,800 licenses are being issued to reach the objective for that DAU.

While the number of licenses may appear to be very high compared to the size of the herds in the GMUs and DAUs, Sidener explained they are in line with the “average success rates” for hunters within those areas over past hunting seasons. The average success rates across the elk seasons is about 15 percent.

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