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Wildlife Seek Refuge From Deep Snow 
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Post Wildlife Seek Refuge From Deep Snow

This year’s unusually harsh snow conditions in southeastern Colorado are causing wildlife to bunch up on highways and railroad tracks. Recent reports indicate more deer, elk and pronghorns are being hit by cars and trains than normally occurs.

In light of that, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) is asking drivers and train engineers to slow down and give the wildlife a break.

The first reports of elk being hit by trains came in from the Trinidad area in early January. Trains hit 41 elk between Trinidad and Aguilar during a four-day period.

Wildlife managers used snowmobiles and snowcats to create safe havens and set out specialized wildlife food pellets to lure the animals away from the tracks. Engineers on the Burlington-Northern also helped out by slowing down and blowing the whistle when they traveled that section of tracks. The effort paid off because no elk have been hit since.

“When the snow gets that high animals look for anyplace they can stand where it’s blown clear and they aren’t buried up to their chest,” said Travis Black, an Area Wildlife Manager from Lamar. “Once they get on a roadway or the train tracks they are vulnerable. The banks are so steep that when a car or a train approaches, they have no place to flee.”

In the past few days, reports started coming in of pronghorn hit by trains south of Las Animas. There have also been reports of drivers having near misses with animals on roadways. There are some indications that as many as 200 pronghorn have been hit since two major blizzards swept across Colorado last month.

“The Division of Wildlife is assessing the situation and will try to lure the pronghorn away from the tracks in a manner similar to that used near Trinidad,” said Black. “The Division is also in the process of contacting all the railroads in the area and enlisting their assistance both in monitoring and notifying DOW of herds near tracks and voluntarily slowing down where possible.”

Black reports that deer and pronghorn are also seeking refuge near haystacks and tree rows for thermal cover (blocking the cold north wind while utilizing the southern exposures for added warmth). Wildlife comes under severe stress in such deep snow conditions. Any additional stress, such as dogs or people harassing wildlife, will add to that stress.

“Although these are trying times, we want to let residents know that it is not a good idea for people to try to help by feeding wildlife. Wild animals have very specific dietary needs. For example, if you give deer the same kind of hay you feed your horses, it could kill the deer,” said Black.

Deer digestion requires specific micro-organisms to break down different types of vegetation. If a deer has been feeding on willows or shrubs, it has built up micro-organisms to digest only this kind of vegetation. If this same deer suddenly fills its stomach with corn or hay, it may not have enough of the corn- and hay-digesting micro-organisms in its stomach to digest the food. A deer can starve to death with a full stomach.

Studies done by research scientists at the DOW have established which types of specialized feeds are required for game animals. Years of testing have determined the proper mixtures of grains for optimal results in deer, elk and pronghorn.

The deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures have also taken a toll on small mammals and upland game birds in the southern part of the state. “We’re just not used to getting this much snow all at once,” said Black. “These conditions are abnormally harsh for this area. We will have a better indication to the impacts on the small game populations in the Spring.”

For more information about Division of Wildlife go to:

Fri Jan 19, 2007 7:21 am
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