The Colorado Wildlife Commission set license numbers for most big game species for the 2011 hunting seasons last week and unanimously approved a regulation banning the hunting or harassment of black bears in their dens.
Division Big Game Manager Andy Holland presented the division’s license recommendations for elk, deer, pronghorn and moose. With elk herds in parts of the state nearing objective, Holland said, license numbers are being cut in some units to maintain population levels. This represents a change from 10 years ago, when the division increased licenses and opportunity to achieve population objectives and respond to landowner complaints of damage to fences and crops.
“We’re constantly trying to balance different interests — hunter satisfaction and opportunity with minimizing game damage,” Holland said. “Experience is teaching us the upper and lower social thresholds for elk in many areas.”
The biggest shifts, he said, are in the Bears’ Ears herd near Craig, the White River herd near Meeker and the San Juan herd east of Durango. Cow tags in those areas have been cut significantly in an effort to nudge the herd toward the upper end of the objective range in response to requests by hunters and outfitters for more elk.
Holland said Colorado’s post-hunt elk population is estimated at 282,000 animals, roughly the same as 2009. Estimated elk harvest was 48,000, approximately the same as 2009.
Colorado’s 2010 post-hunt deer population estimate declined 7 percent to 430,000, with most of the decline represented by mule deer herds in far western and southern portions of state, Holland said. Estimated harvest was steady at about 35,000 animals. Holland noted that managers have already reduced license numbers in many of the herds that have shown decline in previous years in response to higher mortality during the snowy, cold and long winter of 2007-2008. East of Interstate 25, plains deer herds are doing well, with licenses stable or increasing where the division is looking to reduce white-tail numbers.
“Where we have had concerns with some West Slope mule deer herds, we have lowered buck licenses to maintain buck-doe ratios,” Holland said. “So hunters who do draw tags will still find good buck hunting.”
The state’s post-hunt pronghorn population is estimated at 79,000, slightly higher than in 2009. Hunters enjoyed a record harvest, topping 12,000 animals for the first time. Pronghorn continue to do extremely well on the Eastern Plains, but some herds are struggling in the west and southwest. This winter, deep snows caused some pronghorn mortality in Craig, Maybell and in North Park. In the southeast corner of the state, abundant pronghorn populations will offer hunters plentiful opportunity again in 2011.
Colorado’s moose population is currently estimated at 1,690, continuing the steady increase over previous years. This year, the division has created new moose units on the Front Range and Continental Divide, reflecting the species’ expansion across the state. Colorado will offer moose hunting in 36 game management units in 2011.
The coming year will also feature increased bear-hunting opportunities, said carnivore biologist Jerry Apker. The division plans to boost licenses by 17 percent, mainly in seasons where hunters have enjoyed a high success rate, in hopes of increasing bear harvest by 20 percent.
Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington provided an analysis of the 2010 pheasant season, one of the best in memory. Pheasant harvest was estimated at 79,000 birds, almost double the harvest from two years ago, he said. The Commission’s 2009 decision to drop the $20 permit for access to Small Game Walk-In properties to remove a potential barrier to pheasant hunting participation appeared to pay dividends, Remington said. Hunter surveys showed a 39-percent increase in walk-in access use, including a 33-percent jump among youth hunters.
For 2012, the division is looking to improve its walk-in program with funds from a federal grant that will allow managers to encourage better pheasant habitat management on private lands leased by the program.
Commissioners unanimously approved a regulation banning the hunting or harassment of black bears in their dens.
Brett Ackerman, the division’s regulations manager, told the commission that the regulation was prompted by an incident last fall in which a hunter shot a large black bear in its den near Craig. Ackerman said that the den-hunting ban was consistent with a primary objective of the division’s Strategic Plan, which is to maintain and increase public support for wildlife and wildlife management by emphasizing safety and fair chase. The new regulation will take effect on July 1, 2011.
Commissioners approved numerous changes to regulations governing activities on state wildlife areas, including a ban on tracer ammunition and armor-piercing rounds, and the implementation of other changes regarding access and hunting or angling activities on numerous division-managed properties.
The commissioners also approved a motion asking Chairman Tim Glenn to send a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management opposing the “Over the River” landscape art project proposed by the artist Christo for a stretch of the Arkansas River known as Bighorn Canyon. The Over the River project would hang 5.9 miles of white fabric panels above the Arkansas River along a 42-mile stretch between Salida and Canon City. Commissioners said they were concerned that the project would have significant impacts to wildlife, especially bighorn sheep.
Division biologists have suggested a number of mitigation measures including habitat treatments, the installation of water guzzlers to provide for sheep displaced by the project and monitoring to identify unexpected impacts. In the letter, commissioners asked the BLM to adopt the division mitigation policy as a term and condition of the project’s permit, if one is issued.
The Wildlife Commission meets monthly and travels to communities around the state to facilitate public participation in its processes. In June, the commission will meet in Grand Junction.