In order to better track the population trends of mule deer and desert bighorn sheep in and around the Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be conducting helicopter flights and trapping in the area starting as early as Dec. 1.The flights aid biologists in surveying big-game herds, and allow efficient trapping and radio-collaring of animals. Trapping work will continue through mid-January.
Near Montrose, the helicopter could be visible to the public because deer are concentrated on winter range areas just south and west of town. By trapping deer across low-elevation winter range, CPW will gather valuable data on how deer move on the Uncompahgre Plateau. The radio-collars also help biologists understand survival rates for deer.
Helicopter flights for deer will also be occurring in Game Management Units 61 and 62 on the west side of the Uncompahgre Plateau. CPW prefers to avoid flying during the late hunting seasons, but flight days are dependent on the weather and when the helicopter is available.
Deer trapping and collaring started on the Uncompahgre Plateau in 1997. Each year 60 fawns are captured to monitor over-winter survival. The collars automatically fall off in about eight months. A certain number of does are also captured to maintain 90 active collars for the area.
Since the program started, 1,118 fawns and 1,852 does have been monitored. Fawns have shown an average survival rate of 73 percent; the average survival rate for does has been 83 percent.
Flights to trap desert bighorn sheep will occur west of U.S. Highway 50 in the canyon areas between Delta and Grand Junction. CPW hopes to capture five desert bighorns and fit them with radio tracking collars. Only about 160 bighorns inhabit that area. CPW is working with the BLM to monitor desert big horn habitat use in proximity to domestic sheep allotments and recreational activities. Since 2013, CPW has collared 20 desert bighorns in order to monitor their movements.
In addition to helicopter capture flights, CPW will also be conducting classification flights to monitor big game populations throughout southwest Colorado. These flights, which usually continue into February, are focused on classifying deer, elk and bighorn sheep by sex and age to monitor overall productivity and health of a population. Most classification flights are not focused on determining a total count of animals; rather they are used to evaluate population trends in herd areas. Classification data, along with survival data and hunter harvest data are used to estimate big game population sizes and help to determine the number of licenses that will be distributed in game management units for the following year.