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Wildlife managers eye winter conditions

Winter range area north of US Highway 40.
Lance Maggart / Sky-Hi News |

The last week has been particularly warm in Grand County. Temperatures have soared into the 40s in some spots as clear blue skies and sunshine melted ice and snow throughout the region.

This week’s warm front has offered a welcome reprieve from what has been a relatively cold and snowy winter, as compared to recent years. The climbing temperatures have also lessened the strains on wildlife who winter in the lowlands in Grand County. Recently Colorado Parks & Wildlife issued a press release discussing the impacts of severe winter weather this year and how landowners and state citizens can reduce the natural and man made threats to game.

Jeromy Huntington, District Wildlife Manager for the Granby area with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, explained that anecdotally he has not seen high mortality rates this year in Grand County.

“We are not seeing any alarming mortalities,” he said. “So far as I know our mortality is not above anything we would expect.”

“We are still having issues with feeding. People think they are trying to help them but they are actually making matters worse for them. Please resist the urge to feed them.” Jeromy Huntington, District Wildlife Manager Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Other regions of the state have not been quite so lucky though. In the most northwestern portions of the state in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties wildlife officials have dealt with winter conditions this year that are, according to the press release, “similar to some of the most extreme winters in the state during the past 35 years.”

Huntington was quick to caution though that harsher winters often induce people to feed wildlife out of a misguided sense of concern.

“We are still having issues with feeding,” Huntington said. “People think they are trying to help them but they are actually making matters worse for them. Please resist the urge to feed them.”

While warmer temperatures reduce the struggle wildlife must endure to stay warm it can create issues for their ability to forage plants.

“The problem with the warmer temperatures is if the snow establishes a hard crust and then we get a bunch more snow in March,” Huntington said. “It becomes increasingly difficult for them (wildlife) to get to food.”

According to Huntington Grand County has seen a significant number of conflicts between wildlife and livestock this winter as deer and elk have moved down into ranch land in the county to feed on hay.

“People who have not had problems in past years are having some issues this year,” he said.

Huntington described the 2016 winter in Grand County as a more challenging winter than previous years but nothing that would be considered record-breaking conditions. The wildlife manager highlighted the importance of keeping dogs on leashes as the snow’s surface becomes firmer.

“With this crust layer that we now have it is increasingly easy for dogs and predators to run on top of the snow while the deer break through. The crust allows dogs to catch deer that they might not normally be able to catch.”


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