Keeping humans out to keep animals alive

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Wildlife managers announce closures, importance of abiding by them

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  • An aerial survey photo of elk from Game Management Unit 55, taken from a helicopter during an annual classification flight. Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife
    An aerial survey photo of elk from Game Management Unit 55, taken from a helicopter during an annual classification flight. Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Several state wildlife areas, roads and trail access points in the Gunnison Basin have been closed since Dec. 1 to provide deer, elk, Gunnison-sage grouse and other wildlife a safe refuge during the harsh Gunnison winter.

“A lot of our state wildlife areas are now closed to all human use, so it’s important for people at the very least to read and pay attention to the gates and review signs before they do anything else,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Gunnison Area Wildlife Manager Brandon Diamond.

Closures at Centennial and Gunnison state wildlife areas are through April 30. Each CPW property has specific sets of regulations and closure details. Other state wildlife area closures in the Gunnison Basin include all or portions of the Almont Triangle, Miller Ranch, Tomichi Creek and Sapinero.

Similarly, all trails and roads in the Signal Peak area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, are under closures to motorized use until May 15 and mechanized use until May 1. The Contour trail, Cemetery Connector and Canal trail in the Signal Peak area remain open to winter use.

With the array of species that call the Gunnison Valley home, it’s crucial for humans not to add additional stress onto wildlife survival.

“It’s important for people to understand even in mild winters our animals are losing weight and the forage isn’t as good, it isn’t as high of quality. All calories count during the winter for our local critters,” Diamond said.

Wildlife Biologist Kevin Blecha said animals’ main goal during the winter is to maintain body weight. If met with human contact, animals will flee, burning calories they cannot afford to lose.

“Fleeing takes energy, and that cuts in on their energetic reserves,” Blecha said.

He encourages people to be respectful of wildlife and to think of the stark difference between their winter experience and ours.

“Some of these critters are hanging on by a thread, especially later in the winter,” Blecha said. “As humans we could recreate, play in the snow, then jump in a hot tub and warm up. The deer are running around in the snow and can’t go jump in a hot tub.”

Big game have a fur coat and a fat layer that is constantly dwindling during the winter. Animals have some adaptations to handle the harsh conditions but are dependent on the energy they have stored.

“The least we can disturb them during this time the better,” he said.

With more users recreating in the backcountry this year due to the pandemic, Blecha expressed a bit of concern with the possibility of encroaching on wildlife habitats.

“If more people are in the backcountry this year, it could push people to higher elevations or create an overflow of the users getting into some less typical terrain where elk and deer winter habitats could be found,” he said.

Bighorn sheep often pick a spot and stay put for the winter. “Their adaptation is to find these little windswept slopes the size of a football field or less with enough grass to hold them over for the winter and their strategy is to just to wait it out,” explained Blecha.

Currently, visitors 18 or older need to possess a valid hunting or fishing license to access SWA’s or State Trust Lands leased by CPW. This change went into effect July 1, 2020. An upcoming Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting will be livestreamed and held virtually Jan. 13-14. There is an agenda item listed for discussing the regulations.

“There are additional discussions going on with these regulations and there is consideration for some additional type of license or pass, but as it presently stands you do need a hunting or fishing license for access,” said Diamond.

For more information about closures, contact the Gunnison wildlife office 970.641.7060; or for more information on other closures or restrictions on federal lands, please check with the Gunnison office of the U.S. Forest Service at 970.641.0471 or the Bureau of Land Management at 970.642.4940. Violations of closures can result in tickets. Specific mud season closures throughout the basin occur in March.

“When in doubt, read our signs and give us a call,” Diamond said.

(Morgan Schaefer can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or morgan@gunnisontimes.corn.)

CLOSURE DETAILS

> Almont Triangle, closed through April 30.

> Miller Ranch, closed March 1 through June 30. Exception for youth hunts.

> Sapinero: snowmobiles allowed only on the main roads, Rainbow Lake and Red Creek roads, through the wildlife area.

> Tomichi Creek, open to fishing year around, closed to all public access other than fishing from the end of waterfowl season through June 30.

>On all public lands in the Gunnison Basin, collection of shed antlers is prohibited from Jan. 1 through April 30.

More closure details can be found at cpw.state.co.us or by calling the local field office at 970.641.7060.