Impacts of Drought on Wildlife

The current drought in Colorado will likely have some major impacts on wildlife. Due to drought, less food, water, and cover will be available. Less food will likely result in reduced reproduction by adult animals. Less food for adults will also result in less food available for young wildlife, such as the production of milk by deer and elk. With the production of less milk, more fawns and calves may starve or succumb to diseases, parasites, and predation. With less food, deer in particular, will enter the winter months with less fat reserves which can result in higher starvation. With the growth of less grass which provides hiding cover for wildlife, waterfowl nests and young, as well as the young of deer, antelope, elk, and other species will be more vulnerable to predators. Less water will provide less habitat for waterfowl, muskrats, beaver, and other species which may crowd them into smaller areas and make them more vulnerable to diseases, predators, and competition with other members of their own species.

Impacts of drought on wildlife also will result in more conflicts between humans and wildlife. For example, with lower production of berries and acorns, more black bears will enter suburban areas searching for food such as human foods placed in garbage, grease on barbecue grills, and sugar water in hummingbird feeders. More raccoons likely will be seeking sweet corn in gardens, and pet foods inadvertently left outdoors. Some wildlife such as bighorn sheep, deer, and elk may feed on greener grass along road sides which likely will result in more wildlife-vehicle collisions. With less grass forage available, ranchers may view elk as competing more for forage with their livestock. If the drought results in reductions of wildlife populations, ranchers with hunting enterprises on their lands likely will have reduced incomes.

Updated Tuesday, August 05, 2014