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1900-1930: Wildlife on the Brink
1900-1930: Wildlife on the Brink
Mule Deer in Snow

​The first three decades of the 20th Century were characterized by dramatic expansion of Colorado's population, agricultural development, and the ranching industry as well as the initiation of fossil fuel development. According to the US Census Bureau, Colorado's human population grew from 539,000 in 1900 to just over 1million in 1930. Ranching had become the dominant economic driver. Rail service came to Steamboat Springs by 1909, prompting a growth spurt that allowed it to briefly become the greatest cattle shipping point in the United States.1

That same year the Uncompaghre Valley Irrigation Project was completed. This was the nation's first large scale water diversion from one basin (Gunnison) to another (Uncompaghre) for irrigation. The advent of major irrigation projects, and thus irrigated agricultural lands, invariably increased the carrying capacity of many western Colorado deer winter ranges.

The period also saw some of the first efforts to support game populations. Since the start of the mining and homesteading era, mule deer had been subjected to extreme exploitation. By the turn of the century, mule deer population levels were so low that there was widespread support for conservation. In Brown's Park and North Park, newly formed ranching groups began offering bounties on wolves to protect livestock and support game herds. In 1903, Colorado began issuing hunting and outfitting licenses, while the Legislature approved winter feeding to support elk herds. At the federal level, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside eighteen National Forests in Colorado in 1907.  In 1911 Colorado Game and Fish Commissioner James Shinn, reported: "The time was in Colorado when deer were so plentiful that it seemed almost impossible for them to be killed off; but with the increase in population; and the more general settling-up of our state, the deer have been killed; until now they must be carefully protected, or they will meet the fate of the buffalo and become entirely extinct."

Buck deer were protected from hunting until 1918, with antler point restrictions adopted in 1923.  Extraordinarily heavy snows in1921 and 1922 prompted the state to launch an aggressive winter feeding program to prevent the loss of thousands of deer and elk on winter ranges in Grand, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Garfield, Pitkin, Gunnison, Rio Grande and Boulder counties. Three years later, game wardens were directed to destroy predators by trapping, poisoning, or hunting. The initiation of widespread and aggressive predator control by state and federal government agents on public and private lands coincided with a dramatic increase in deer across the West. 

October 1929 marked the crash of the stock market, but Colorado's deer and elk populations were entering a dramatic, multi-decade period of recovery. Biologists estimated the state had 17,000 elk and 45,000 deer, and those populations were increasing rapidly. In 1929, Colorado sanctioned its first official elk hunt in 26 years, while an estimated 4,000 buck deer were being harvested annually. In addition, 175 mountain lions were killed and presented for collection of a bounty enacted earlier in the year.