CPW seeks comments on big game management plans in southwest Colorado


Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is seeking public comments on proposed big-game management plans for the San Juan mule deer herd and the Dolores River desert bighorn sheep herd in southwest Colorado.

Interested parties must submit comments to CPW by Dec. 22.

According to CPW, herd management plans take into consideration things such as available habitats, hunting preferences, population trends and recreation impacts, among other things.

The location for the desert sheep plan is from the Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir to the Paradox Valley in Montrose County; in this plan game management units are referred to as S-63 and S-64 with CPW estimating that five animals are part of that herd.

The location for the deer herd plan extends from the Animas River east to Wolf Creek Pass; CPW notes in a press release that it includes Game Management Units 75, 77, 78, 751 and 771.

Additionally, CPW estimates that the population of that herd is about 27,000.

According to a draft of the San Juan mule deer herd management plan, a concern within the draft analysis unit is loss of critical habitat, more specifically winter range and migration corridors due to human population growth.

“Exurban development is occurring in Archuleta and La Plata counties and homes are replacing open lands currently supporting wintering deer,” the draft plan reads. “Wildlife biologists and the public are concerned over cumulative and prolonged impacts disrupting migration and decreasing quality and quantity of winter habitat.”

The draft plan notes that winter range is a critical component for deer and is already limited; that habitat is also the most at risk by development.

“Deer eat less and lose weight during the winter and, to conserve energy, they limit physical activity,” the draft plan states. “Any type of disturbance will cause a deer to use more energy during this critical time and lead to a higher chance of that animal dying.”

Migration corridors are needed for deer to get to important summer and winter ranges, and development that disrupts migration can impact deer in regard to health, survival and reproductive success.

Not only do housing developments increase with a growing population, the draft plan states, but traffic also increases in areas like on U.S. 160.

According to the draft plan, U.S. 160 5 miles east of Durango has an average annual daily traffic (AADT) count of 13,000; in the next 20 years that is expected to increase by 38 percent.

“It is common to drive Hwy 160 east of Durango when mule deer are on winter range and see several fresh deer carcasses along the road. Increased vehicle density logically will intensify deer mortality,” the draft plan notes. “It is a concern for both herd welfare and human safety. Also, highways can be a barrier to wildlife movement, short- stopping animals from reaching critical habitats.”

“Overall, the way the plan is written is pretty much status quo for that area,” CPW Southwest Region Public Information Officer Joe Lewandowski said in an interview on Wednesday.

The deer herd in that area, unlike other areas in southwest Colorado, has been doing very well, Lewandowski noted.

“We’ve got good age distribution of animals; good fawn production,” he said. “Keeping it the same seems the best way to go. We’re not trying to decrease the herd or increase the herd. It’s maintaining a good number of animals.”

CPW notes that both of these plan proposals are seeking to maintain stable to increasing populations and that after public comments are evaluated proposals will be sent to the CPW Commission for review and approval.

Comments on the bighorn plan can be sent via email to: Montrose Terrestrial Biologist Brad Banulis at brad.banulis@state.co.us. Comments on the deer plan and the bighorn plan can be sent to: Durango Terrestrial Biologist Brad Weinmeister at brad.weinmeister@state.co.us.

The proposed plans are posted on the CPW website. Both can be found at: https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/HerdManagementPlans.aspx.