Drought conditions are affecting many aspects of human life in Southwest Colorado, but they’re also impacting wildlife across the region.
Some animals, such as birds, do not need to drink much water because they metabolize water from the food they eat, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski.
But drought conditions decrease the moisture in vegetation, which is detrimental to animals’ hydration. This can be problematic for lactating females, for instance, because they need extra water to produce milk.
For this reason, Parks and Wildlife hopes monsoons this summer will bring moisture to the vegetation, creating a larger inventory of food for animals.
The warm spring, which has so far stayed clear of a major freeze, has been beneficial for bears, Lewandowski said.
Last year, there was a late freeze that affected bears’ natural food supply. Bears then came into town to forage in humans’ trash. This year, food such as plants and berries are growing and available for the bears to eat.
Dry years also affect fish habitats. Low river and creek water levels mean fewer places for fish to go. Fish eat bugs, and the more water there is, the more bugs there are. When water is warmer, there is less oxygen available in the water.
At the Durango fish hatchery, Parks and Wildlife is releasing fish into the wild earlier than normal because there is less water available for the hatchery to use.
Species have adapted to different climates for thousands of years, so there is no threat of a mass extinction, Lewandowski said. However, biologists are worried that long-term drought will have harmful effects on wildlife.
“We’re looking at long-term effects for wildlife,” he said. “There’s nothing the public needs to do, but we just kind of want to let people know that the dry weather has a lot of different effects.”
Since April, Southwest Colorado, as well as the entire Four Corners, has been listed in an “exceptional drought,” the most intense drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.