|Doug Purcell is a district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW). He’s been at it for 13 years now, the past 10 of which have been in service to the Pagosa Springs area. He fulfills a multitude of wildlife-related duties over an 800-square-mile area of eastern Archuleta and south-central Mineral counties.
Doug is charged with enforcing wildlife and fisheries laws, protecting and enhancing related habitat, and disseminating valuable wildlife information to the general public. While providing education regarding relevant legal matters, habitat and animal/human interaction, he also participates in wildlife population estimates and inventories, addresses public needs or concerns, and responds to all wildlife issues at the district level.
When asked what he liked most about his job, Purcell said, “I like the field work — working with wildlife and being outdoors. I enjoy making a difference in helping wildlife live in balance with humans.”
Doug enjoys working with people who share his love of the outdoors, particularly when they’re engaged in activities or programs that ultimately help preserve the natural environment.
“The job varies so much day to day,” he added. “We’re biologists, with about a quarter of the job involving law enforcement.”
District wildlife managers are certified peace officers, and enforcing state and federal wildlife laws — while working cooperatively with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies — includes field patrols and interviewing licensed hunters and anglers. All wildlife officers, including Purcell, have the power to conduct investigations; write wildlife citations, warnings and case reports; apprehend and arrest violators; man check stations and conduct covert operations, often utilizing wildlife decoys to lure in known suspects. They prepare necessary paperwork and often testify in court.
Among Purcell’s list of least favorite job characteristics, he finds the mounds of paperwork and government bureaucracy most disheartening. Nevertheless, he acknowledges their necessity and shrugs them off as “part of the job.”
According to Purcell — and most district wildlife managers, for that matter — increasing conflicts between humans and bears are especially challenging.
“Bear conflicts are always difficult,” Purcell said in a February interview. “Education doesn’t seem to help. It’s only a temporary fix before many people quickly go back to the same behavior that caused the problem to begin with.”
When pressed for his viewpoint on this year’s Pagosa area hunting and fishing prospects, Purcell perked up.
“There won’t be any archery over-the-counter, antlerless elk tags this year,” he began, “but we did our elk and deer flights in December and the numbers look really healthy.”
Though DOW personnel don’t actually count individual animals, Purcell said, they do look for composition among the herds. While estimating elk cow-to-calf ratios, they also look for a bull-to-cow ratio, which indicates potential population trends in specific areas.
“I believe elk numbers are really healthy this year,” he continued. “While deep snow may cause a higher than average loss of yearling, old or sick animals by spring, we’ve had two consecutive years of low harvest. It usually alternates year-to-year, so we’re due for a really good harvest, so next fall looks good for hunters.”
Purcell seemed equally satisfied with area mule deer populations, no doubt due to their tendency to migrate further south and west in October. Apparently, local deer herds have staged a gradual comeback after many individuals, especially some of the larger bucks, perished during recent harsh winters.
“We had several trophy bucks harvested last season,” Purcell explained. “They (mule deer) move to the pinon/juniper forests in lower elevations, where it’s slightly warmer and less snow makes it a little easier to feed.”
According to Purcell, another popular spring and fall quarry, the Merriam’s turkey, is also faring well. “After reintroducing them some years ago, their numbers are increasing throughout the area.”
Purcell described the turkeys as amazing animals capable of adapting well to Pagosa winters. As long as the snow on south-facing slopes “burns off” during warm sunny afternoons, they generally find sufficient forage to survive, if not flourish. The only real concern Purcell expressed with regard to wild turkeys, is their propensity toward reliance on artificial food sources like the pickings beneath backyard birdfeeders. Evidently, if feeder seed supplies aren’t consistently maintained, some turkeys could go undernourished.
As the topic turned to area fishing, Purcell was quick to proclaim the quality of fishing in the San Juan River through Pagosa Springs. Every summer, a group known as the Pagosa Quality Fishing Project solicits donations from the local business community, then buys hundreds of pounds of large trout for stocking between the Sixth Street bend and the Conoco station near the east end of town.
“There are also many quieter waters nearby for those willing to hike a bit,” Purcell added in reference to the abundance of high-country streams throughout Pagosa Country. “Get up high enough, and anglers can catch lots of colorful brook and cutthroat trout without seeing a lot of people.”
Through ongoing training, Purcell, Mike Reid, Adrian Archuleta and all DOW district wildlife managers are constantly increasing their knowledge and individual outdoor skills, while maintaining required licenses and certifications. All the while, they’re looking after some of Colorado’s most precious resources — namely its amazing diversity of wildlife and related habitat.