In 1999, the Colorado Division of Wildlife produced a report to the Colorado Legislature which discussed declining mule deer populations.7 CPW has completed many of the management and research projects and changes suggested in this report (institute mule deer survival monitoring areas, upgrade deer inventory, enhance data analysis, increase research, habitat enrichment, etc). CPW is also a participant in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, 20 mule deer working group that was convened in 1997 to develop strategies to increase collaboration among the states to addresses declining mule deer populations in the western United States. However, there is more work to be done as Western Colorado continues to grow and the demand for more mule deer increases.
During the first decade of the 21st Century, Colorado's human population continued to grow rapidly, topping 5 million residents in 2010 (Figure 1), with increasing impacts on wildlife habitat. Increased human populations require agricultural and food practice changes that shift land use away from family farming and ranching to more resource-intensive practices. While the construction of homes and subdivisions continue to displace wildlife and fragment habitat, other stressors, such as surging demand for outdoor recreation and expanding road systems also pressure the state's deer herds. New drilling technologies have opened millions of acres of formerly un-economic oil and gas plays, bringing industrial development and heavy traffic loads to the state's empty quarters (Figure 2).
Figure 1. Colorado human population 1860-2010. United States Census Bureau data.
Figure 2. Active oil and gas wells in Colorado as of January 2013
Despite these challenges, Colorado has maintained its reputation as one of the premier states for mule deer hunting. However the statewide, post-hunt 2012 deer population estimate of 408,000 is far below the current statewide population objective range of 525,000 - 575,000. In 2012, CPW received 59,954 hunter applications for 79,800 deer licenses.