Last month, Cody Purcell, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, assembled a dozen citizen volunteers and two CPW staff to conduct a summer count of the Cedaredge mule deer population. The purpose of the count was to gather data on the number of deer that are congregating in and adjacent to town. The survey was a follow-up to Purcell's February count and his winter campaign to remind local residents to stop feeding wild deer.
Deer are clustering in and around Cedaredge, in part because local residents are feeding them. Feeding wild deer is bad for their health and it is illegal under Colorado law. Deer cannot digest unnatural food and eating it contributes to poor health and sometimes kills the animals. Violators are subject to citations and fines but Purcell hopes that community awareness will decrease the likelihood that local residents will be cited.
To conduct the deer count, Cedaredge and areas near the town limits were divided into separate zones. Counters were given zone maps and instructed to record the number, gender, and location of animals spotted between 7 p.m. and dusk.
The total count for summer was far lower than the winter count. The summer crew documented 142 animals whereas the winter count totaled 542. In both cases, about two-thirds of the deer counted were so-called 'resident' deer that seem to have made a home in Cedaredge especially on the golf course.
Weather may have influenced the count totals. The winter count was conducted on a blustery frigid day in February and the June count occurred during the ongoing regional drought. Still, the totals are significant since they suggest that the urban deer population is subject to seasonal migration patterns.
According to Purcell, the winter deer that were clustered in and near town have tended to move up to Grand Mesa and other higher elevations. Temperature and availability of food are factors compelling the deer to move higher plus pregnant does were seeking more isolated areas to drop their fawns.
Purcell emphasized that the winter and summer counts represent the early stages of CPW efforts to develop a scientific management plan to deal with the town's growing deer population. The winter and summer counts will be conducted again to secure multi-year data and an autumn count may be added.
The timing of the potential autumn count is crucial because Purcell hopes to get a better idea of when the deer begin to leave higher elevations and return to town. Counts conducted at differing times of the year will yield data to analyze deer movements during diverse seasons. The overall goal is to continue gathering data in order to prepare a comprehensive management plan to guide future actions.
"The picture will paint itself as we go," said Purcell, "The data may tell us how many deer are resident in-town versus how many migrate in and out of town and help us determine if they are following typical migration patterns."
In closing, Purcell reminded everyone that several fawns are out and about. "If you spot a fawn on their own, rest assured that the mother is nearby. Don't try to 'rescue' the fawn. A fawn which has been touched or handled by a human is more likely to be abandoned by the wild deer mother."