Steamboat Springs As winter starts to come on strong, elk and other big-game species start moving to lower elevations and onto their native winter ranges. For farmers and ranchers, this migration means it is time to secure haystacks and protect feedlots. As wintering elk struggle to find food in the deep, heavy snow, the lure of an abundant and accessible food source, like an unprotected haystack, can cause herds to abandon natural food sources and habitats.
Human development and expanding public land pressures can lead to shrunken, degraded and over-utilized winter range habitat, increasing the problem of wildlife conflict on private lands. Abundant winter recreation in Steamboat Springs also adds stress to elk and can push them onto private ranches.
So, what is a farmer or rancher to do to alleviate the damage caused by big game? One option is the availability of game damage prevention materials, such as fencing and stackyard supplies. Additionally, if landowners meet certain criteria, such as allowing hunting on their property and not charging more than $100 access fee per hunter, then they may be eligible for reimbursement for agricultural losses through the Colorado Division of Wildlife's Game Damage Program. Your local district wildlife manager can provide information on these programs.
Beyond traditional Division of Wildlife programs, farmers and ranchers have another avenue where they can receive financial assistance to mitigate big game conflicts. The Habitat Partnership Program (HPP) can assist landowners with building stack yards, repairing fences, doing habitat improvements projects and more. HPP was organized in the early 1990s as a way to reduce wildlife conflicts and help meet big game management objectives. However, HPP is unique in that it is not a program run exclusively by the Division of Wildlife. Instead, HPP is geared toward forming partnerships in the community between landowners, sportsmen and other agencies. To accomplish the cooperative goals of the program, local committees are made up of representatives from each of these groups, with only one representative from the Division of Wildlife. Statewide, there are 19 HPP committees, primarily located on the Western Slope. Committee boundaries were determined on the basis of conflict areas identified by the livestock industry. The Yampa Valley, including Steamboat Springs south to Yampa, west to Hayden, and most of the Elk River corridor, is a part of the Upper Yampa River Habitat Partnership Program Committee.
Funding for the HPP program comes from 5 percent of big-game hunting license revenue generated within each HPP area. Individual committees receive funds and develop Habitat Management Plans that guide the spending priorities and activities of the group. Usually, HPP projects are cost-share ventures, with the committee funding as much as 50 percent of the overall project cost or making a materials or labor cost agreement.
Since its inception in 1993, the Upper Yampa HPP Committee has funded a variety of projects to reduce wildlife conflicts throughout the Yampa Valley. Highest priority always has been given to projects that improve big game winter range. These include, but are not limited to, mechanical treatments, prescribed burns, seeding, fertilization, water development and weed control projects. The hope is that by enhancing natural forage production within remaining winter range habitats, these areas will continue to attract and hold wildlife in nonconflict areas.
Other projects, including stackyard construction, small feeding enclosures, and wildlife-friendly fences also have received substantial funding from the local HPP committee. Several recent projects have been geared towards increasing public knowledge of the role of HPP and the challenges of wildlife management and conflict.
The first step in the process is to contact the local Division of Wildlife District Wildlife Manager or a local committee member. Second, a simple project proposal form will need to be completed to present your idea.
Meetings for the Upper Yampa HPP Committee typically occur on the first Monday of every month. These committee meetings are open to the public. Meetings always are in the evening and take place at the DOW Steamboat Springs Office at 925 Weiss Drive. If you are interested in attending a meeting, call 970-871-2855 for more information.
Danielle Domson is a District Wildlife Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife out of Steamboat Springs.