Starving deer will soon be fed in Eagle County |

Starving deer will soon be fed in Eagle County

Aspen Times staff report

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