DOW plans 'aggressive' winter action

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Regional Colorado Division of Wildlife officials plan to meet winter head-on this year.

"We're geared up, I hope, so if we have a similar winter again (compared to record snowfall last year), we can hopefully alleviate the problems that landowners experienced," said Bill de Vergie, area wildlife manager for the Meeker office, which oversees Moffat County.

Last winter, problems with elk and other big game animals eating local ranchers' livestock feed strained relationships between residents and the DOW.

The agency expects to be better prepared for possible harsh winter conditions this year. Last year's sudden onslaught of snow and ice led to hungry animals breaking into private stackyards and surprised officials who expected a winter as mild as those several years before.

The DOW has begun stockpiling wooden panels, which it loans to landowners to hang over their wire-mesh fencing to better keep out wildlife.

It also plans to tackle problems with all its resources, de Vergie said, including issuing various permits that allow landowners to kill trespassing wildlife that cause repeated damage to property.

"We're going to be aggressive," he said. "We have options where we can do kill permits, game damage licenses. We can give (landowners) hunting permits."

The DOW also will be open to emergency feeding operations, such as the project seen last winter in Gunnison. Officials estimated they fed about 9,500 deer at 131 different sites at the peak of activity.

The Meeker office did not conduct a similar operation in Northwest Colorado, because animal testing did not show similar levels of malnourishment in local wildlife, de Vergie said. However, district wildlife managers and biologists will continue to monitor animals this year to make sure the population does not become at risk.

Baiting operations will be a key strategy early if animals begin to congregate on private property as they did in some areas last year, de Vergie added. In those cases, DOW officers dump hay on selected public lands and herd animals toward it to try and keep them off private property.

The DOW conducted two such operations around Maybell and Sunbeam in Feburary.

In addition to those programs, the agency has tried to stay ahead of the curve next spring and summer by continuing to offer free, permanent stackyard fencing, which still is available.

After a landowner's request, a DOW officer will come out to the property and survey how much square footage needs to be covered, and then the DOW will provide wooden posts, metal bars, gates and wire fencing. Landowners build the fences themselves.

"We did have a few more requests for (permanent fencing) this year than we have lately," de Vergie said. "I guess because people remembered what kind of winters we can have around here."

Hopefully, he said, these more aggressive plans will keep problems from getting out of hand. There is, however, one issue with no immediate answer.

When de Vergie looks at a map of Moffat County, he sees a story of two halves.

On the eastern side, he sees a group of landowners who enjoy the right to let hunters onto their property during the fall to hunt the various wild animals coming off the high country.

On the western side, de Vergie sees a group of landowners who are "stuck" with the wildlife during winter - a time when animals cannot be hunted and when the most available food is stacked inside private hay pens.

"These guys (on the western side) don't get to make a lot of the money during hunting season, and yet, a lot of them have to endure a lot of the animals during the wintertime," de Vergie said. "I don't know what to do. Without trying to run (hunting season) way into the middle of January, I don't know."

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