Wildlife: Wintry weather to take toll on Colorado mule deer

Mule deer enjoying an abundance of January forage as a sustained warm spell has melted low-elevation snowpack in Colorado.

Last year, mild winter conditions eased foraging conditions for ungulates, but this year’s cold temps and deep snow could result in increase mortality. @bberwyn photo.

‘Wildlife has been experiencing and surviving severe weather for eons without human intervention’

Staff Report

Harsh winter conditions in northwestern Colorado may take a toll on already struggling mule deer herds, state biologists said last week, explaining that they’ve started a limited feeding program to try and keep ungulates from invading cattle grazing areas.

The recent storms have created conditions ranking among the most extreme in the past 35 years. Temperatures dropping well below zero and deep powder snow atop brittle crusts are making it harder for deer and elk to forage and could lead to increased wildlife mortality in portions of the region unless the weather moderates significantly, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Continue reading

Twin storms boost Colorado’s January snowpack

Entire state blanketed with snow in early Feburary

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Mid-winter, and nearly all of Colorado has snow on the ground.

Staff Report

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Snowpack is at or above average in all of Colorado’s river basins.

A pair of storms that bookended January helped raise the statewide snowpack level to 111 percent of average as of Feb. 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Survey.

Satellite images and other remote sensors operation by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center storms left nearly the entire state blanketed in snow. Without those two storms, January snowfall would only have been about 70 percent of average for the month, said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor with the NRCS.

Snowfall continued through February 3, which increased snowpack totals to as high as 117 percent of normal as of Feb 4. The mountains of Southern Colorado saw the greatest increase in snow-water equivalent. From January 28 to February 3. total snowpack depth increased as much as 30 inches at the Cumbres Trestle SNOTEL in the San Juan Mountain range.

As of February 1, the snowpack was below average in only a handful of minor watersheds. All other drainages were above to well above normal. While the late January storms benefitted the entire state, January precipitation as a whole was particularly slim in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins and storms only amounted to about 75 percent of normal monthly snowpack accumulation.

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Increase in Vail-area mountain lion sightings may be caused by humans feeding other wildlife

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Mountain lions are roaming through residential areas around Vail. Photo courtesy CPW.

‘We have lions in the area, and in fact, they have been here for quite some time with very few incidents …’

Staff Report

Colorado wildlife managers say recent sightings of mountain lions around Vail may be the result of humans feeding prey animals, especially foxes. A string of recent lion sightings have a common thread, according to long-time district wildlife manager Bill Andree.

At each location where lion conflicts have been reported, there have also been red foxes present. Andree said it’s possible that people are feeding foxes or allowing trash and other attractants to be available. That can be a major catalyst for serious interactions with mountain lions, he cautioned.

This week, a man walking his dog near Buffehr Creek Road north of Interstate 70 in Vail told wildlife officers that he witnessed his pet come nose to nose with a lion. The dog was not injured in the incident. Less than a mile away, a woman reported that her dog remains missing and although not yet confirmed, evidence indicates a predator may be responsible for its disappearance. Continue reading

Aerial forest surveys track continued spread of spruce beetles across Colorado forests

State, federal scientists track forest health

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Aerial survey results show how spruce beetles are taking a toll across Colorado’s forests, with new areas of infestation in the Sange de Cristo, the West Elks and even the northern mountains.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Spruce beetles are still spreading in the southern Rocky Mountains. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

The latest results from aerial surveys of Colorado forests shows that spruce beetles are doing the most damage, with infestations detected on 409,000 acres across the state, expanding onto 182,000 acres of previously unaffected forests. Since 1996, spruce beetle outbreaks have caused varying degrees of tree mortality on more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado.

The mapping shows spruce beetles spreading outward from the San Juans to the West Elk Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and into the northern part of the state around Rocky Mountain National Park. See the full report here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/USFSR2ForestHealth.

State forest experts said it was the fourth year in a row that spruce beetle outbreaks caused widespread tree mortality. As populations of spruce beetles expand, they are starting to affect higher-elevation stands of Engelmann spruce. The report says blowdown events, combined with long-term drought stress, warmer temperatures and extensive amounts of older, dense spruce, have all contributed to the ongoing spruce beetle outbreak. Continue reading

Colorado regulators eye new fracking rules

Oil and gas drilling near schools and homes in Firestone, Colorado. Photo courtesy Shane Davis, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Chapter.

Oil and gas drilling near schools and homes in Firestone, Colorado. Photo courtesy Shane Davis, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Chapter.

State commission will meet Jan. 25 to take action on proposed regulations

Staff Report

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is set to take some modest steps to strengthen its oversight of oil and gas development in Colorado by considering new rules that would require more cooperation between fracking operators and local communities.

The commission will meet Jan. 25 to consider rules that would ensure that fossil fuel companies provide earlier notice to local governments, as well as an opportunity for local officials to work with operators on the location of large oil and gas facilities adjacent to communities. Continue reading

Mountain lion kills dog in Vail

A mountain lion in Colorado

Wildlife managers are trying to track a mountain lion that killed a dog in Vail. Photo courtesy CPW.

Wildlife officers will try to track and kill the cougar

Staff Report

A mountain lion that wandered into Vail and ate a dog will probably pay the ultimate price for seeking prey in town. Wildlife officers said that, based on the behavior of the lion, it is considered a threat to human health and safety.

“Anytime a lion hunts and finds cover in a residential area, then continues to remain in the area, that is a cause for concern,” said Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will. “In cases like this, we will not hesitate to take the appropriate action to protect human health and safety.”

That means wildlife officers will try to track the animal and kill it.

“Yes, that is what our officers believe is the best course of action,” said CPW spokesman Mike Porras. Continue reading

Sunday set: Winter dreams

From the archives

There’s pure magic in the deep, cold heart of winter, especially during the golden hour, when the rising or setting sun can be playful, mysterious and perplexing. The images in this set capture a bit of that magic, but there’s so much more. #getoutside #explore and don’t forget your camera! If you want to support independent journalism, visit our online gallery to buy a fine art print, with proceeds supporting Summit Voice.

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