GJ Sentinel 12/9/12 Parks and Wildlife studying from the sky

Dec 9, 2012

By DAVE BUCHANANDave.Buchanan@gjsentinel.comDAVE

Late-season big-game hunters heading this month to game management unit 22 southwest of Meeker may not see flying reindeer but may witness low-flying helicopters. As part of a multi-year mule deer study in the Piceance Basin, Colorado Parks and Wildlife during December will conduct helicopter capture-and-collar operations on mule deer in unit 22. Parks and Wildlife is warning hunters the operations may affect any late-season outings in the area. The Piceance Basin is one of the most extensive and important mule deer winter and transition range areas in Colorado and for nearly 50 years has been the focal point for mule deer studies by state wildlife researchers.

From a wildlife-management standpoint, the Piceance Basin area covers about 600 square miles. The history of research dating from the 1960s has given the state a valuable timeline of deer population swings and balances. In addition to rich wildlife resources, the area holds one of the largest natural gas fields in the United States. Several energy companies are developing their mineral leases in the area, and the Bureau of Land Management recently identified the basin for extensive future development. Chuck Anderson, mammals researcher for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, described aerial capture and collaring operations as “a critical part of our mule deer study.”Anderson said this particular study is aimed at determining the impact energy development has on mule deer population and potential ways to mitigate those impacts. According to Parks and Wildife, the mule deer population in the Piceance Basin is around 25,000 animals. The study is looking at such factors as deer distribution and winter movement, over-winter fawn survival, physical condition of the deer and possible fluctuations in deer density. Anderson says the capture operation may temporarily inconvenience some hunters, but the benefits include making future hunts much more productive for every-one. “We appreciate everyone’s patience as we keep working to find some answers to this challenging situation,” Anderson said. The study began in January 2008 and is expected to continue through 2018. Funding came from a range of partners, including the BLM, Colorado State University, Idaho State University, several sportsmen’s organizations and various energy corporations, including EnCana, Williams, Shell, Exxon and Marathon. For more information about the capture operation, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Meeker at 970-878-6090. More information about this and other mule deer research is available online at wildlife. state. co. us.