CPW scaling back baiting operation
Weather in the Gunnison Basin over the past weekend has allowed the area’s snowpack to settle noticeably, leading Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to scale back a wildlife baiting operation along Hwy. 50.
Baiting began last month in an effort to draw herds of deer and elk away from the highway and agricultural operations. CPW discontinued baiting west of Gunnison following an operation Monday morning.
“It has opened up incredibly,” Area Wildlife Manager J Wenum said of conditions west of the city. “There are literally south facing hillsides that have little to no snow on them. … Animals are moving across the landscape. They can access forage. The bait we’re using out there they’re not utilizing because they can get to natural food.”
Wenum said Monday he expects that the area along the highway east of town will be in a similar situation in five to seven days. As a result, CPW plans to continue the baiting operation east of Gunnison until Friday, Feb. 17 and reassess conditions at that time.
Wildlife managers noted that weather this week was forecast to be mild with highs in the mid to high 30s and lows in the teens.
While warm temperatures and recent rain at lower elevations have melted most snow from south-facing slopes, it’s turned the snowpack east of Gunnison into a soupy slush with little structure.
“It has virtually no base,” Wenum said. “If you step in it, you go to dirt.”
While prolonged cold temperatures could leave the remaining snow impenetrable, Wenum offered that daytime temperatures above freezing this week should further settle the snowpack.
“If we get another couple feet of snow, it could change conditions out east, but March is typically a wet, snowy month,” Wenum offered. “The good news is it’s warmer, it melts off quicker.”
The agency plans to continue baiting for elk to reduce conflict with agricultural operations.
As of Feb. 8, of the radio-collared deer which CPW is tracking 93 percent of does have survived, and 67 percent of the fawns have survived. Annual winter monitoring for survival will continue through June 15.
The recent weather has caused what Wenum described as an “awkward” situation for wildlife managers. That’s because last week CPW began ramping up efforts to include volunteers in the baiting operation — before scaling back those efforts early this week.
About 125 people this winter had expressed interest in helping the agency with the baiting operation — 25 of whom had completed the application process.
Wenum noted that this year’s baiting efforts — intended to spread animals across the landscape and away from roads — used tactics that relied to a greater degree on large equipment, which made putting volunteers to work difficult. As of last week, wildlife managers had reached a point where baiting sites were established and volunteers could finally be utilized.
However, snowmelt experienced in recent days has exposed geologic hazards, and the use of equipment could result in damage to sagebrush. As a result, CPW decided to cease baiting in some areas.
For the time being, emergency closures on shed antler collection, big game hunting and CPW-managed state wildlife areas remain in place until at least May 15.
“I anticipate keeping them in place,” Wenum said. “We’ll evaluate them as well.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)