Sitting at my dining room table, I reflect on the season upon us. What a study in extremes! Last winter we had deeps snows, each day bringing another foot of fluffy white powder. We all lived a part of each day behind a shovel, moving the fluff out of the way. This winter our snowfall has been below normal and the sun greets us nearly every day.
The heavy snows of last winter took their toll on local wildlife. Elk were trapped away from their traditional winter ranges on south-facing slopes, leaving them to fight heavy snows to locate food. All too often, local ranchers found large numbers of elk feeding with their cattle or marauding from one haystack to the next. We discovered that even haystacks protected by 8-foot fences were vulnerable to attack by hungry elk.
And you, our local agricultural producers, worked hand in hand with the Division of Wildlife to ensure that the majority of the wintering elk in our valley survived to see another spring. Many of you put up with the annoyance of elk feeding with your cattle, sneaking in an extra bale or two to feed hungry wildlife. Some of you hosted hunters for morning after morning. Reducing the number of mouths that needed to be fed ensured that the majority of animals survived until spring. Many of you donated hay. And then some of you assisted us with direct feeding of elk that were stranded by 6 feet or more of snow.
Indeed, the partnership we enjoy with agricultural producers in the Yampa Valley and across the state is essential to ensuring that we have places for our wildlife to live, especially during critical winter months.
Last winter, wildlife in the Yampa Valley was in dire need of assistance from agricultural producers. And this year, producers in the southeastern corner of the state were hit with back-to-back blizzards that left thousands of cattle stranded by deep snows. Recognizing that many agricultural producers needed assistance, the Division of Wildlife sent 32 wildlife officers to Lamar to provide assistance. Four-wheel-drive trucks, snow machines, snowcats and many years of snow experience descended on the area.
For example, District Wildlife Manager Mike Middleton from Steamboat Springs loaded up a snow machine, his heavy winter clothing and his 25 years of experience and headed for Lamar. He was joined by Division of Wildlife employees Josh Dilley of Walden and Steve Baumgartner of Hayden. Once there, they worked with three other wildlife officers on one ranch assisting the owner and his family in locating 3,000 cattle spread over tens of thousands of acres. Day after day, our wildlife officers worked alongside of the rancher and his family searching for life in a sea of white. And they found cattle scattered in groups of five to 10 throughout the ranch. Once found, the cattle were fed and then led to sources of water. Hard, cold, wet work - you bet. But these folks were in need of help.
Speaking of partnerships, wildlife depends not only on the agricultural industry, but also on the actions of all of us. Wild animals expend more energy keeping warm than they find in their food. Conserving energy is essential to their survival. There are many closures of National Forest lands in our foothills during the winter to protect big game. Please respect these closures. The last thing a deer or an elk needs to do is waste critical energy reserves running away from a person or a dog roaming around in a wildlife wintering area. Thank for helping Steamboat's wildlife make it through another winter.
Werner is the area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.