Deer starving in Eagle, Wolcott will soon be fed |

Deer starving in Eagle, Wolcott will soon be fed

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Colorado Divsion of Wildlife photo Hunger and heavy snow is forcing state wildlife managers to feed deer in Eagle County for only the third time in 25 years.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Because of a harsh and snowy winter, wildlife managers will start feeding starving deer near Eagle and Wolcott for just the third time in almost 25 years.

The consistent, heavy snowfall that’s been so good for the ski slopes has covered up the small plants and shrubs, like sage brush, that deer eat in the winter. Deer don’t store as much fat as elk, so those plants that poke up through the snow are vital to their survival.

Now, the deer are hungry enough to start stripping juniper trees, which have almost no nutrition. It’s a sure sign of desperation, says Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife.

The Division of Wildlife will only consider feeding animals if there’s a chance more than 30 percent of adult female deer will die in a winter. This has only happened in the winters of 1983-1984 and 1996-1997, and it looks like that could happen.

So, deer will be feed at 20 locations around Eagle and Wolcott, and the Division of Wildlife will need volunteers and money to do it, Hampton said. The feed alone will cost around $120,000.

No matter how mild a winter may be, cold weather is always tough for animals.

“Some animals will always die during winter, typically the very young, the very old, and the ones that may be sick,” Hampton said.

But for the past 12 years, many of these deer haven’t experienced a truly tough Colorado winter, Hampton said. So, when deer seek out those mountain valleys where they’ve found winter food in the past, they’ve found almost nothing this year and are often trapped in these valleys by towering snow drifts.

When the deer aren’t trapped, they’ll be venturing past their comfort zones looking for food, which means they’ll be coming closer to roads, homes and humans. Seeing a starving, bony deer can be an unsettling sight to many people, Hampton said.

“Some people are upset by it, and others understand it, but at that point, there’s not much we can do about it,” Hampton said.

Elk are having a tough winter as well. Earlier this winter, the Division of Wildlife started a “baiting program” to help ranchers deal with hungry elk digging into their hay stacks.

Because the elk are desperate for food, they’re tearing into to the stacks of hay that feed horses and cattle. The Division of Wildlife is replacing some of this hay for the ranchers and even giving them some extra to strategically place and move the elk away from where the cattle feed.

“We’ll put out some additional hay to make sure the horses and cows get what they need and so the elk won’t be fighting with these animals,” said Craig Wescoatt, the district wildlife manager.

Feeding deer is a labor-intensive process, and the Division of Wildlife is looking for volunteers.

Volunteers will be needed to unload food from trucks or even take deer feed to feeding sites, which may require using a snowmobile, or for more remote locations, a pair of snowshoes and the ability to hike a distance with a backpack.

Deer need about three pounds of food a day to survive, and the Division of Wildlife will probably be using about 3,000 pounds of food a day.

Residents in the Eagle area interested in volunteering can contact Division of Wildlife Volunteer Coordinator Linda Edwards at The Division of Wildlife is not looking for volunteers outside the Eagle area.

Money donations can be given through the Division of Wildlife Web site at

Donations are also being sought from those who can provide trucking services or fuel to haul feed to the Eagle area. Trucking services and corporate donations are coordinated through Division of Wildlife Marketing Director Debbie Lininger at (303) 291-7160.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

Support Local Journalism