Big snowfalls in northwest Colorado cause trouble for big-game animals
When Ron Velarde stood before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at its recent meeting in Denver, he made it clear February was a lifesaver for big game in parts of northwest Colorado.
“February probably saved us (and) the deer and elk situation in the Northwest Region,” said Velarde, Northwest Region manager for Parks and Wildlife. “It’s interesting. You hear people say, ‘Did you even have a winter?’ And yes, we had a winter.”
In what has proven to be an exception to winter conditions seen elsewhere across the state, Velarde and the Northwest Region field staff earlier this year reported seeing deer, elk and pronghorn trapped by deep snow.
“When I did some tours up there with my staff, there was four feet of snow,” he said. “That’s on the average.”
He listed Craig and Meeker specifically, with higher amounts, “probably five to seven feet,” at higher elevations.
“It was not very good,” Velarde said. “The elk were having a rough time moving, the deer weren’t moving, and the antelope were bunched up.”
Northwest Region assistant manager Dean Riggs later explained the swath of heavy snow was limited to either side of a line stretching from around Maybell in the northwest corner to about Steamboat Springs and the Bears Ears region.
Steamboat Ski Resort has reported receiving nearly 30 feet of snow this winter.
A series of storms in December left substantial snow, and later a sun-crust formed on the snow, increasing the difficulty for animals to move and find forage.
“It got worse in January,” Riggs said. “We had a reprieve in February, but by that time the animals don’t have much time to recover, even if conditions lighten up.
“We’re always worried about the deer and pronghorn aspect, and we still are going to see some mortality in some older does as well as some fawns and calves.”
Velarde told the commission this past winter, despite its ominous start, won’t be remembered as being as difficult as the memorable winters of 1983-84 or 2007-08.
“From our perspective, thanks to a lot of things, we are ending up in better shape than we earlier thought,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, but overall it could have been a lot worse.”