Colorado Parks and Wildlife seeks to increase West Slope mule deer populations |

Colorado Parks and Wildlife seeks to increase West Slope mule deer populations

A mule deer buck in velvet hears something in the distance near Bailey, Colorado.
David Hannigan / Colorado Parks and Wildlife |


What: Colorado West Slope Mule Deer Strategy Summit

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, August 9

Where: The Ramada Inn and Suites, West 6th St., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601

Register at

Predators, road traffic, severe winters. Development, disease, drought.

All kinds of factors could be causing the recent drop in mule deer numbers on the West Slope, and the decline has many groups worried.

“This is not a hunting issue,” said Mike Porras, regional spokesman for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It affects everyone in the state, and everyone has a right to come up and let us know what their suggestions are.”

Mule deers ­— with their antlers, springy legs and spotted fawns — are beloved by locals and tourists, conservationists and game hunters.

Parks and Wildlife has been seeking public input, and on Saturday, Aug. 9, the agency will host a summit in Glenwood Springs to present its draft strategic plan for addressing the issue.

“The bottom line is we’re not telling people what we think needs to happen. We’re asking people to tell us what they think needs to happen,” Porras said.

This spring, Parks and Wildlife brought together sportsmen, landowners, outfitters, biologists, wildlife managers, other state agencies, federal agencies, local elected officials and other interested members of the public. The agency hired The Keystone Center to facilitate seven public meetings, two on the Front Range and five on the West Slope, to discuss the issues facing mule deer and possible solutions that would become the West Slope Mule Deer Strategy.

The mule deer that live mainly in the northern part of Summit County, where lower elevations mean better habitat, are doing all right, said Ron Velarde, northwest regional manager with Parks and Wildlife.

But deer populations living in the rest of the state west of the Continental Divide have not fared as well.

He said the agency does aerial surveys to record the ratios of does to fawns and does to bucks, and track where and how the animals are wintering. The agency factors in predator numbers and the amount of deer harvested during the hunting season, among other things, and uses computer models to calculate a population goal for the deer.

Statewide, the post-hunt 2012 deer population estimate of 408,000 was far below the population objective range of 525,000 to 575,000. On the West Slope, the post-hunt estimate of just over 300,000 was more than 100,000 deer shy of the desired range of 410,000 to 450,000.

Velarde explained that the deer populations have swung up and down over the last 150 years.

Starting in the 1800s, when more people moved west during the mining era, Velarde said, deer populations decreased as people hunted whatever they could and game laws didn’t apply yet. Then from the 1950s through the 1970s, the populations soared as the U.S. and Colorado eliminated hunting and killed mountain lions, bears and coyotes to protect livestock.

With the absence of natural predators, the abundant deer overate their habitat and the numbers crashed again. Predator numbers increased in the late 20th century and the deer populations did as well before declining in recent years.

The draft plan that the agency will present Saturday has seven strategies, including protecting habitat quality and quantity, increasing predator harvest rates in some areas and reducing the impact of highways and human recreation.

Velarde said the agency will gather more feedback at this final meeting before sending the plan to Parks and Wildlife leaders. Then the plan will be presented to the state Wildlife Commission, an 11-member citizen board that oversees the agency, for approval.

“We’re trying to do something to not only maintain the population but increase it,” Velarde said.

Porras added that the agency is always trying to find a balance so that human populations and wildlife species can coexist.

“It’s a challenge,” he said, “one of the biggest challenges that any wildlife agency faces.”

To register or learn more about the summit, email or call 1-866-276-3074. For more information about mule deer, visit

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