Deer and elk aren’t enjoying epic snowfall as much as people are | VailDaily.com

Deer and elk aren’t enjoying epic snowfall as much as people are

EAGLE — For skiers and snowboarders, this past week's snowfall has been epic. But for local deer and elk, not so much so.

Recent heavy snow has animals migrating down to lower elevations in their search for food and shelter as they struggle to weather the toughest part of winter. That means residents are more likely to see animals closer to residential and commercial areas. While the access is cool for humans, the animals wouldn't be hanging out so close to people if they didn't need to do so to survive.

If heavy snowfall continues through the month, then Colorado Parks and Wildlife may have to launch a feeding program to ensure animals can weather the winter.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife wildlife manager Craig Wescoatt, a decision to start a feeding program would have to come from the agency's Denver offices. The last time that happened was three years ago.

"We are getting to the point where it could be true problem," he said.

Give them some distance

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While the stressed animals struggle to make it through the winter, Wescoatt said the best thing that people can do is leave them alone. That means giving them plenty of distance and making sure dogs are kept far away. When dogs chase deer and elk during the winter months, they force the animals to burn up energy reserves they simply cannot spare.

"People have been very responsible so far this winter," Wescoatt said.

New regulations have been instituted this year that are likely having an impact on human and wildlife interactions. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has issued a series of new access rules. Under the new regulations, the Hardscrabble area between Eagle and Gypsum is restricted to pedestrian, skiing and snowshoeing with no motorized or mechanized uses allowed.

"There have been other changes as well, and people need to look on the BLM website to see what uses are allowed and not allowed in specific areas," Wescoatt said.

As always, the town of Eagle's Open Space located south of Eagle Ranch is now in seasonal closure. That means no human use until April 16.

Antler rules

For backcountry enthusiasts who enjoy hunting for shed antlers, the activity is prohibited until March, and even when the ban is lifted, shed hunters must comply with hourly restrictions.

"The purpose of that prohibition is to keep people from harassing animals while they are in their most stressed state," said Wescoatt.