Wildlife Federation to discuss deer decline in Steamboat, Craig | SteamboatToday.com

Wildlife Federation to discuss deer decline in Steamboat, Craig

If you go

What: Biologists working for National Wildlife Federation discuss report on 30-year decline among pronghorn and mule deer populations

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Bud Werner Memorial Library

Cost: Free

— A team of wildlife biologists hired by the National Wildlife Federation doesn't know exactly why populations of pronghorn and mule deer are declining in our area. However, they are concerned enough about the future of the range where the "deer and the antelope play" that they are coming to Steamboat Springs and Craig on Thursday and Friday to host public meetings.

"If we are to maintain our native deer and pronghorn populations and our hunting traditions, land managers and wildlife agencies need to address the landscape-wide impacts that undermine the habitat vitality wildlife relies on,'' said Steve Torbit, a wildlife biologist and the National Wildlife Federation's regional executive director.

The report issued by Torbit's organization states that the numbers of the animals have been in decline in areas straddling the Wyoming-Colorado border, including northern Routt County and North Park on the east side of the Park Range from Steamboat Springs.

Veteran wildlife biologist John Ellenberger, who had a lengthy career with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and Gene Byrne produced the report.

The National Wildlife Federation is suggesting that an expected increase in oil and gas exploration could make the situation worse for the herds.

Ellenberger told the Steamboat Today that the report did not identify a specific causal relationship between oil and gas exploration (or other human activities) and the degradation of the herds. Nor was that his purpose.

Instead, he and Byrne reviewed decades of research on the animals to confirm long-term populations trends

"The declines are occurring due to a multitude of issues," Ellenberger said. "Which of them to blame, we don't know. But we're finding that the populations are vulnerable."

The meetings in Northwest Colorado — in Steamboat on Thursday and in Craig on Friday — can be expected to look closely at the relationships among the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish and the federal Bureau of Land Management.

A Q-and-A paper prepared by the Wildlife Federation points out that although the Wyoming and Colorado wildlife managers share information about the herds, the BLM arrives at its own land management decisions (including oil and gas leasing) that ultimately affect the animals.

Ellenberger said human activities have gradually fragmented the deer and pronghorn range during the last three decades.

"You go to the next step, with what's planned in the area (in terms of energy exploration) and by inference you can expect significant impacts on habitat," he said.

He said he's concerned that without increased emphasis on wildlife habitat, the animals could be pushed beyond a point from which they cannot recover.

"Any further habitat will just make it worse and reduce hunting opportunities," Ellenberger said. "It's a wake-up call to sportsmen and the general public. We need to take care of the habitat."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com