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Piedra River workgroup considers wildlife migration data

Migration, noun: to move from one region or habitat to another.

While people may do this activity, the main concern for the Piedra River Protection Workgroup is not a fluctuation in illegal immigration from Mexico, but instead the annual migration of elk and mule deer.

During last Tuesday’s workgroup meeting, wildlife biologist for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Aran Johnson presented studies on the migration routes of a select group of mule deer wintering in the HD Mountains and its effect on the Piedra River corridor.

“The Piedra River, not just the river but the entire corridor, absolutely stands out as an important stem of the mule deer’s migration route,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that the study began because of potential gas development in the HD Mountains, thus the data concentrates on that area. Johnson explained that 89 deer had GPS collars put on, and data was collected from 77 of those collars.

From this data, Johnson and his research team determined that the average dates, duration and distances for the deer’s spring and fall migrations. According to the study, the average spring migration will begin May 7 and last an average of 19 days. The fall migration will normally begin on Oct. 13 and last an average of 16 days. Approximately 10 percent of the deer involved in the study were killed while crossing either U.S. 160 or 84.

“The biggest and first obstacle the deer face in migration is U.S. 160 or 84,” Johnson said.

District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife Mike Reid explained that wildlife’s migration routes are susceptible to change, especially based on development. However, climate change has less effect on migration than one might think. With the Little Sand fire, Reid explained that many animals, including deer manage low intensity wildfire. Johnson emphasized this point with a picture from the last GPS data collected from the mule deer’s collar. One deer, alive and well, was located in the middle of the fire’s perimeter. Reid added that other deer have been spotted during flyovers.

“If those deer weren’t happy and wanted to move, they had plenty of time to do it,” Reid said.

However, the main concern for the workgroup, in regard to Johnson’s study, remains the relationship between the Piedra River corridor and wildlife migration routes.

“For mule deer in particular, it’s pretty important,” Johnson said in conclusion to his presentation.

Though not sure in what way yet, the data Johnson provided will be compiled and utilized in the workgroup’s final report.

The workgroup will continue to go over the various perceived threats to the Piedra River Corridor during the next meeting at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 17, at the Ross Aragon Community Center.

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