Colorado Winter Wildlife Death Toll Mirrors Wyoming’s

Antelope, deer and elk in northwestern Colorado are suffering similarly to those in Wyoming – and seeing similar big game die-offs.

Mark Heinz

April 03, 20234 min read

Mature bull elk

Morose drone footage recently taken in northwest Colorado near the Wyoming state line reflects a scenario being played out across both states as a miserable winter for wildlife drags on.

The camera steadily zooms in on the emaciated carcass of a large bull elk on the edge of a tiny patch of bare ground on a ridgetop amid a sea of hardened snow. Its a place where, for who knows how long, the bull held out as best he could until a lonely death took him as it has taken so many other animals this winter. 

"We don't have any percentage estimates of our losses," Colorado Parks and Wildlife department northwest region spokeswoman Rachel Gonzales told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. "We truly wont know for a while. We still have a long way to go."

In the Rawlins-Red Desert area of central Wyoming, it's thought that as many as half of the pronghorn (antelope) are dead or soon will be. And in southcentral Wyoming around Baggs, it's even worse, with observers fearing that up to 80% of the antelope there will die. 

Deer and elk are expected to suffer big losses on both sides of the Wyoming-Colorado line, and both states are considering curbing this falls hunting seasons accordingly. 

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35 Antelope Killed At Once

"Much of northwest Colorado along the Wyoming and Utah state lines is buried in 30 inches or more of hard, crusted snow," Gonzales said. So, as they are in Wyoming, big game animals are trapped alone or in small groups in tiny, hemmed-in dry patches with little to no forage left. 

"Some of the south-facing slopes have started to melt off a bit, but its still pretty bad," she said. 

Desperation is driving some animals, antelope in particular, toward roadways, often with devastating results. 

"They're using the roads to move around or for the warmth radiating off of the asphalt," Gonzales said, "and groups of antelope are bedding down right in the middle of highways." 

"In January, a semitrailer plowed into a herd of antelope on U.S. Highway 40 near the Utah line outside of Dinosaur, Colorado, killing 35," she said. "Later that same month, a pickup killed 18 antelope huddled on a county road near Craig, Colorado, south of Baggs." 

Similar Highway Death In Wyoming

Exhausted, starving critters have been bedding down in the middle of Interstate 80 and other highways near Evanston, Wyoming Department of Transportation snowplow driver Jason Fry recently told Cowboy State Daily.

WYDOT crews have been hauling off truckloads of carcasses of animals that either starved by the roadside or wandered into traffic lanes and got hit.

Fall 2023 Hunting Could Be A Bust

With all the wildlife death in both states, some fall hunting seasons are being called into question. 

"The entire area running from northwest Colorado to central Wyoming is known for its abundant antelope hunting. However, in some parts of Colorado, theres already talk of a need to cut antelope hunting tags by up to half this year," Gonzales said. 

"We've already lost a significant amount of pronghorn, and were starting to see a big loss of mule deer as well," she said. 

Similarly, the possibility of cutting, or even canceling, some hunting seasons is on the table in Wyoming. 

During an emergency meeting to discuss winter kill hosted by Gov. Mark Gordon in Pinedale last week, some hunters said they'd be willing to sit out this Fall, if thats what it takes.

Gordon and Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik called a second meeting in Rawlins, set for 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Jeffrey Community Center. A zoom link is available for those unable to attend in person.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter