Mule deer numbers are declining in Southwest Colorado, with populations near Groundhog Reservoir and Mesa Verde National Park suffering the largest declines.
Trends for the past 15 years show a consistent drop in estimated populations in the region. Fly-over surveys, fawn-to-doe ratios, hunting data and on-the-ground observations are used to track population trends.
In 2011, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists estimated 22,700 mule deer regionally. For 2012, population estimates dropped to 21,100.
Mule deer numbers near Groundhog Reservoir and Mesa Verde National Park have been especially hard-hit.
Brad Weinmeister, a biologist in CPW’s Durango office, said the downward trend is likely attributable to the extended drought, less nutritious range and increasing development and populations.
“Since 2000, the forage has taken a huge hit, so that is a big portion of what is going on,” he said. “It’s a concern, and quite a bit of money has been spent trying to figure it out, but we have not pinpointed the problem.”
Hunters are reporting fewer mule deer in the field, and the dropping population numbers have led to fewer hunting permits for the animal.
“It has been harder to get mule deer permits,” said Michael Hall, owner of Westfork Outfitters. “We’re seeing less in some areas, but there has been an increase of mature animals.”