Starving deer will soon be fed in Eagle County
February 16, 2008
EAGLE COUNTY ” Because of a harsh and snowy winter, wildlife managers will
start feeding starving deer near Eagle and Wolcott for just the third time
in almost 25 years.
The consistent, heavy snowfall that’s been so good for the ski slopes has
covered up the small plants and shrubs, like sage brush, that deer eat in
the winter. Deer don’t store as much fat as elk, so those plants that poke
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up through the snow are vital to their survival.
Now, the deer are hungry enough to start stripping juniper trees, which have
almost no nutrition. It’s a sure sign of desperation, says Randy Hampton,
spokesman for the Division of Wildlife.
The Division of Wildlife will only consider feeding animals if there’s a
chance more than 30 percent of adult female deer will die in a winter. This
has only happened in the winters of 1983-1984 and 1996-1997, and it looks
like that could happen.
So, deer will be feed at 20 locations around Eagle and Wolcott, and the
Division of Wildlife will need volunteers and money to do it, Hampton said.
The feed alone will cost around $120,000.
No matter how mild a winter may be, cold weather is always tough for
“Some animals will always die during winter, typically the very young, the
very old, and the ones that may be sick,” Hampton said.
But for the past 12 years, many of these deer haven’t experienced a truly
tough Colorado winter, Hampton said. So, when deer seek out those mountain
valleys where they’ve found winter food in the past, they’ve found almost
nothing this year and are often trapped in these valleys by towering snow
When the deer aren’t trapped, they’ll be venturing past their comfort zones
looking for food, which means they’ll be coming closer to roads, homes and
humans. Seeing a starving, bony deer can be an unsettling sight to many
people, Hampton said.
“Some people are upset by it, and others understand it, but at that point,
there’s not much we can do about it,” Hampton said.
Elk are having a tough winter as well. Earlier this winter, the Division of
Wildlife started a “baiting program” to help ranchers deal with hungry elk
digging into their hay stacks.
Because the elk are desperate for food, they’re tearing into to the stacks
of hay that feed horses and cattle. The Division of Wildlife is replacing
some of this hay for the ranchers and even giving them some extra to
strategically place and move the elk away from where the cattle feed.
“We’ll put out some additional hay to make sure the horses and cows get what
they need and so the elk won’t be fighting with these animals,” said Craig
Wescoatt, the district wildlife manager.
Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or