The emergency feeding program by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in the Gunnison Basin is in full operation with feed being distributed to big game animals at more than 60 sites.
The program was started Jan. 13 because of extreme winter conditions in the area. Up to four feet of snow is covering natural food sources, and cold temperatures that have reached 40 degrees below zero are affecting the animals.
The feeding effort is being aimed at mule deer and pronghorn because their natural food sources are completely covered with snow. Elk, which are well-adapted to severe cold, are being provided hay in select areas only to keep them away from deer feeding sites and ranchers’ haystacks.
For the past 10 days Division of Wildlife personnel have been packing trails and roads into feeding areas with snow-cats and snowmobiles. Now that the snow on those trails is firm, feed is being taken into areas by snowmobile, snow-cat and on foot. Feeding is being done by DOW staff and volunteers. About 150 people have signed on to work as volunteers in the effort. At this time the DOW is not soliciting more volunteers.
Deer, which are naturally wary of people, are becoming accustomed to human activity and are starting to move to the feeding sites. Deer are being provided approximately 2 pounds per day of a specially formulated, high-energy feed.
Feed is also being provided to about 380 pronghorn in the basin. These animals, however, are notoriously skiddish and are difficult to draw to feed sites.
One problem facing wildlife officials is that some people are feeding deer inappropriate food. Deer are browsers, they survive mainly on shrubby-type vegetation. They cannot survive on hay, pet food, corn, birdseed, table scraps, etc.
“Unnatural food hurts deer more than it helps them,” said J Wenum, area wildlife manager for the Gunnison area.
If people want to help deer, wildlife officials recommend that property owners knock snow off of shrubs and pack down areas with snowshoes or skies to allow deer to move around in snow more easily.
Even though winter conditions are difficult in the basin now, snow came late which allowed deer to feed on natural vegetation until mid-December. Consequently, the body condition of many deer still appears to be good at this time.
Wildlife managers note, however, that the tough conditions will mean that mortality among deer will likely be higher than average. In a normal winter, 12 percent to 18 percent of the population will die. Most susceptible to harsh winter conditions are fawns and older age bucks.
“We’re not trying to save every deer in the Gunnison Basin. More deer will probably die this year than in average years. But our feeding program is meant to avoid a catastrophic die off,” Wenum said.
Colorado residents are reminded that the Colorado Division of Wildlife has posted a temporary emergency closure on wildlife-related recreational activities on public lands in the Gunnison Basin below 9,500 feet through May 15. Activities prohibited include all hunting and shed-antler collecting. Fishing is still permitted on Blue Mesa Reservoir and area streams. Collection of big horn sheep horns or skulls in sheep unit S70 is also prohibited. The full closure notice and a map can be viewed at the DOW web site:
Anyone can make a donation to the feeding effort. Go to the DOW’s home page to donate on line or for more information:
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For more information about Division of Wildlife go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us.

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