Aaron Berscheid is a district wildlife officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Aaron covers the “wild” side of Northeast El Paso County, including Black Forest, Falcon, Peyton and Calhan. He also covers some of Elbert County, north of U.S. Highway 24 and south of State Highway 86, including the towns of Elbert, Kiowa, Ramah, Simla, Matheson and a small portion of the Limon area.
Flying over big game herds critical to wildlife sustainability
By Aaron Berscheid
District Wildlife Manager, CPW
Winter is here and snowy days are upon us and conditions are perfect for Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff to take to the air.
Depending where you travel in Colorado in coming weeks, you may notice low-flying aircraft cruising through the sky. These likely are flights carrying CPW biologists and wildlife managers who are conducting critical big game classification surveys.
Early each winter, CPW assembles small teams to take to the air before the snow gets too deep and temperatures plunge to bitterly cold levels.
These teams include a pilot, the local wildlife biologist and usually the local wildlife officer or another observer. They are armed with binoculars, cameras, clipboards and pens. They scan the horizon looking for deer, elk, bighorn sheep or moose.
The best and most efficient way to survey wildlife herds is from a helicopter, which allows wildlife managers to spot wildlife from a distance and then briefly hover near the herd.
From there, the crew can accurately identify the species, location, number of animals in the herd, sex of each animal and the age class of each animal. Surveying an entire herd can be as brief as just a few seconds.
It is loud inside the helicopters and small planes used by CPW, depending on the terrain, altitude and route being flown. And it gets louder as the spotter begins calling out “Buck, buck, doe, doe, doe!” Or maybe the shouting is “Bull, bull, bull, cow!”
As you can imagine, it takes a good eye and a motion sickness-resistant stomach. The older I get, the harder it gets to resist the motion sickness, but with a little Dramamine and some mental fortitude, I get to enjoy one of the greatest experiences this job has to offer.
These surveys are conducted primarily in search of deer and elk. With the data collected from the flights, CPW can provide accurate population estimates, which help when making management decisions and setting hunting license numbers.
All of this is made possible due to funding from our sportspersons’ dollars, so thank you all for buying your hunting and fishing licenses and supporting our conservation efforts.
Our local classification flights occur across the state. In the Pikes Peak region, we’ll be flying east of Interstate 25 focusing on the areas east of Colorado Springs to the Kansas state line.
Classification flights take place after hunting seasons when herds are less likely to be scattered. Winter is also a time when herd animals such as elk are more likely to group up regardless of age or sex. Surveys are set to occur during December and into January.
For more information on CPW’s big game population objectives, please visit cpw.state.co.us/ThingsToDo/pages/HerdManagementPlans.aspx
In the coming months, I’ll share more stories as I write about wildlife issues in our community: If you have a question, problem, or column idea, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 719-227-5231.
I might even answer your question in a future installment of “Wildlife Matters.”