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Game managers consider emergency feeding and hunting restrictions to support struggling wildlife

Joe Riis courtesy of Wenjing Xu

News brief: 

Much of the Mountain West has endured a long, harsh winter, and it’s been an especially hard season for deer and other big game. Now, wildlife managers are searching for ways to help herds recover.

At a recent town hall meeting, Wyoming Game and Fish director Brian Nesvik said animals in the western part of the state have been struggling with deep snow limiting their food supply, frigid temperatures and disease outbreaks. The snow is also forcing more wildlife onto roadways, leading to more collisions.

“What we've seen, basically from Pinedale to Rock Springs, is about 50 percent of adult mortality on pronghorn, and about 30 percent adult mortality on deer and almost all of the fawns are gone – about 90 percent or even a little bit more than that,” Nesvik said.

The impacts extend across the region. A wildlife manager in Utah said in an interview with Outdoor Life that they may lose 70 percent of their adult deer in one part of the state. In northwest Colorado, Parks and Wildlife employees reported having to euthanize a bull elk they witnessed dying of starvation.

“My worst days are the days when I have to make the decision to end an animal's life just to end its suffering. It gets to you,” District Wildlife Manager Jeffrey Goncalves said in a press release.

In response to this year’s conditions, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado have established feeding programs to keep animals from starving and lure them away from roads and ranches.

Game managers are also considering selling fewer hunting tags so the populations that make it through this winter have a better chance of recovery. In parts of Colorado, the state may sell 40 percent fewer licenses than normal.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Will Walkey