Colorado Parks and Wildlife Starting Winter Big-Game Classification / Capture Flights in Southwest Colorado

MONTROSE, Colo. – As part of its ongoing work to monitor the health of the state’s big-game herds, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has started its winter classification and capture flights in southwest Colorado.
CPW biologists use the flights to observe and record trends in deer and elk populations. Employing survey methods used for decades, biologists are flown by helicopter over areas where animals historically congregate during the winter months. Using a specialized “counting” technique, biologists record their observations of female, male and young animals. This allows biologists to understand the ratio of male-to-female animals following the hunting seasons, and ratios of young-to-female animals going into winter.
“We use our classification data, harvest data and collar data to plug into our computer models and determine trends in the health of herds and make population estimates,” said Brad Banulis, a terrestrial biologist for CPW in Montrose.
The classification data, population models and herd-management plans provide big-game managers with the information needed for setting license numbers for the next fall’s hunting seasons.


People on the ground who sometimes see the helicopters will notice a change in the type of aircraft being used this year. In past years, CPW contracted with a company that flew a yellow helicopter – small with a large glass bubble. This year a larger, white helicopter is being used.
Besides the classification flights, CPW also utilizes helicopters for long-term studies that are examining survival of deer and elk. For example, on the Uncompahgre Plateau west of Montrose, CPW has used helicopters to catch and place telemetry collars on deer since 1997. In the Gunnison area, similar captures have been used for deer and elk-survival studies occasionally over the years.
The biggest project for the agency involves capturing and monitoring elk in the southern tier of the state where calf-to-cow ratios have been declining for the last decade. The purpose of the project, which started last spring, is to determine why survival of young elk is declining in southern Colorado. For this study, elk are being captured in the area west of Trinidad, on the Uncompahgre Plateau and in the Glenwood Springs-Carbondale area. Captures near Craig are also being done to act as a “control” in the study; elk in northern Colorado are doing very well.  
Captures for the long-term elk research started last spring when about 100 cow elk were captured. Pregnant cows were fitted with telemetry collars. In the spring, technicians on the ground captured and collared newly born elk. In the next few weeks more young elk, about six months old, will be captured and collared.
The telemetry collars are GPS equipped, so biologists can watch their computers to see how elk are moving and if any animals die. In case of a mortality, biologists go to the site, examine the animals, and attempt to determine cause of death. The study is scheduled to continue for six years.
“This is a very big and important study. We expect that it will provide valuable data, but it will be at least a year before we’ll have relevant information,” Banulis said.
To learn more about big-game management in Colorado, go to:


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