Heavy snow leaves Colorado deer hungry | VailDaily.com

Heavy snow leaves Colorado deer hungry

George Kochaniec, Jr., AP/Rocky Mountain NewsA doe mule deer, left, rests in the deep snow of the Gunnison Basin east of Gunnison on Wednesday as another deer forages for food beneath the snow.

GUNNISON, Colorado ” Colorado wildlife employees and volunteers have launched a massive effort to feed thousands of mule deer facing starvation in deep snow and subzero temperatures.

“If we have a catastrophic die-off, we could lose half the herd in one winter,” Division of Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said.

A herd of about 21,000 deer is struggling in snow up to 4 feet deep and temperatures as cold as minus-26 degrees in the Gunnison Basin, about 125 miles southwest of Denver.

Lewandowski said wildlife officials believe they can get feed to about 8,000 of them from about 55 feeding sites.

“We’re concentrating on areas we can do the most good in a short amount of time,” he said.

About 30 Division of Wildlife workers and 250 volunteers are involved. Spotters located the deer from airplanes, and Sno Cats ” big tracked vehicles ” packed down paths so smaller snowmobiles can deliver the specially formulated feed.

“It’s long, slow, cold work,” Lewandowski said.

The campaign is expected to cost $400,000 and last up to 60 days.

Lewandowski said the division was intervening rather than letting the deer fend for themselves because the animals were already contending with development on their winter range, and hunting and wildlife-watching contribute millions of dollars to the area economy.

“Part of what we do is help for the local economy,” Lewandowski said

Wildlife officers are less concerned about elk and bighorn sheep, saying they can handle the weather better.

They have some concern for pronghorns, however. They are harder to feed than deer because they’re more skittish and less likely to let people near.

Deer closer to home seem to be faring better, said the Division of Wildlife’s Randy Hampton.

“We are monitoring around the Aspen area, the Eagle area, around Meeker and Steamboat Springs, but at the present time we haven’t had any snowfall substantial for the last couple of days,” Hampton said. “For now we don’t have plans to feed in other areas.”

Snow covering up big game animal’s food may not be a problem forever. Bob Elderkin, who is president of the Colorado Mule Deer Association and whose home near Silt overlooks a herd of deer, said this is the first winter in seven years snow cover has lasted more than a few days.

“I’m sure it has something to do with global warming, but I don’t know,” he said. “As far as what I can see around here, I don’t think there’s any argument about global warming.”

Glenwood Post Independent reporter Pete Fowler contributed to this report.

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