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Elk Research
Elk Research

​Evaluating Solutions to Reduce Elk and Mule Deer Damage to Agriculture 

Led By

Heather Johnson, Matt Hammond, Patt Dorsey, Kurt VerCauteren (USDA National Wildlife Research Center), Justin Fischer (USDA National Wildlife Research Center), W. David Walter (USDA National Wildlife Research Center), and Charles Anderson (USDA National Wildlife Research Center).

Study Area

Vicinity of Dove Creek, Colorado 

Project Status


Research Objectives

  • To test various non-lethal techniques to reduce elk and deer crop depredation.
  • To examine elk and mule deer distribution and migration patterns around agricultural areas to design public hunting opportunities to reduce crop damage.
  • To map and model landscape characteristics associated with elk and deer damage to identify site-specific management strategies to minimize crop depredation.

Project Description

Elk and mule deer provide important recreational, ecological, and economic benefits, but they can also cause substantial damage to crops in rural areas. Crop damage caused by elk and deer accounts for a majority of the state's wildlife damage claims, which Colorado Parks and Wildlife is obligated to pay.

In particular, the sunflower fields around Dove Creek have experienced high rates of damage from elk and deer. Between 2007 and 2009, CPW paid farmers in the region roughly a quarter of a million dollars annually and routinely allocated kill permits, distribution hunts and private land only doe/cow hunts to eliminate animals causing damage. Pressure from local growers over crop damage and frustration from the general public over kill permits prompted CPW to evaluate other management options for reducing crop damage caused by elk and deer. 

As a result, CPW partnered with wildlife damage researchers from the USDA National Wildlife Research Center to test various non-lethal solutions to reduce crop damage. Such techniques include polyrope electric fencing, winged fencing, and an organic repellent. In addition, researchers are tracking deer and elk movement patterns using GPS collars. The data will be used to identify distribution and migration patterns so that public hunts can be designed that target those elk and deer causing conflicts with farmers. In addition, deer and elk location data will be used to model damage potential in relation to field locations, surrounding habitat types, human development, and topography. Information about the location of a crop field in the context of the overall landscape will allow CPW to work with local growers to identify appropriate management strategies to reduce game damage.

Results from this study should enable CPW and local growers to reduce deer and elk crop depredation, leading to a decrease in compensation payments, a decrease in kill permits/distribution hunts, and an increase in public hunting opportunities.

Associated Publications

Johnson, H.E., J.W. Fischer, M. Hammond, P.D. Dorsey, C. Anderson Jr., and K.C. VerCauteren. 2014. Evaluation of techniques to reduce deer and elk damage to agricultural crops. Wildlife Society Bulletin 38:358-365.