Last week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers, staff and volunteers fanned out across seven count areas in Woodland Park to collect data on the local deer population. City Council requested help from CPW so they can make informed decisions relating to safety issues.
CPW wildlife biologist Julie Stiver coordinated the count on Thursday, starting with a briefing for the about-25 people packed into a conference room at the Colorado State Forest Office. Stiver has conducted these types of counts for about 20 years, and this is the third year for an organized and systematic count of deer in Woodland Park.
Counters use data sheets to record the number and age of bucks, does and fawns, map their locations and record the times of observations. Recording the locations of observations is important to help map deer distribution. The time of the sighting is recorded to help avoid double counting deer that may wander into a different count area. Data sheets have a comments section for other notes like the health and condition of the deer, in an effort to track illnesses like chronic wasting disease. Attendees were divided into groups covering the different count areas, then drove the streets and counted any deer observed. The counting crews cannot drive every road, so they try to do a representative sample for each area.
The count day was one of the colder this winter with air temperature in the low 20s that afternoon plus a decent wind chill. These conditions can potentially make it harder to see deer that are more likely to be hunkered down out of sight. Stiver conducts the count in January to keep the data consistent with other counts in the state that are done after the November hunting season.
The count is not an attempt to estimate population size, Stiver said, as that would be an expensive and time-consuming effort requiring intensive activities like radio collaring deer. The count is also not an effort to determine population trends; there is not enough data yet to calculate that metric. It will take CPW several weeks to process and analyze data from the count.
The count will produce two important metrics: fawn-to-doe ratios and buck-to-doe ratios. These numbers can then be compared to numbers of deer seen outside the city limits. The two-year averages for the previous Woodland Park ground counts (posthunt 2016-17) were 39.1 bucks per 100 does and 88.3 fawns per 100 does. Comparatively, the five-year averages for helicopter count surveys throughout Teller County (posthunt 2013-17) were 25.3 bucks per 100 does and 75.4 fawns per 100 does. The fawn-to-doe ratio provides a measure of how prolific the urban deer population is regarding reproduction.
Though this is only the third annual count, the data from the two previous counts appears to indicate a 13 percent higher rate of reproduction within the city limits. Counts throughout Teller County average about one or two deer per square mile. The two-year average for the Woodland Park counts was 298 individual deer, which translates to more than 40 deer per square mile. The denser population within city limits is likely due to the ideal habitat and abundance of food from landscaping, gardens and intentional feeding of deer.
City Councilmember Carrol Harvey and Woodland Park Public Information Officer Karen Case helped with the count effort, along with Tim Kroening, CPW District Wildlife Manager for Teller County. Harvey said City Council is seeking data and advice from CPW since they are the wildlife management experts. Results from the surveys will help the council make decisions regarding a plan of action. This could include a managed archery hunt and an information campaign similar to the “Bear Aware” program to educate residents on the hazards of feeding wildlife. Feeding deer is illegal in Colorado, and recently, Woodland Park City Council passed an ordinance that introduces tiered levels of penalties for willfully feeding deer, starting with warnings.