MONTROSE, Colo. – Winter is tough on wild critters, that’s why Colorado Parks and Wildlife maintains State Wildlife Areas to protect critical habitat that provides refuge areas for big game. In Montrose and Ouray counties, the Billy Creek State Wildlife Area and the Cimarron State Wildlife Area provide more than 11,000 acres of important winter range that is well used by deer and elk.

To protect wildlife, CPW implements seasonal closures and all public access to these areas is prohibited during the closure period. The Cimarron SWA, located east of Montrose, is closed from Jan. 1 through June 30. The Billy Creek SWA, located south of Montrose, is closed from Jan. 1 through April 30. except along the Uncompahgre River corridor near U.S. Highway 550 as posted.

“As the human population in western Colorado increases, critical winter habitat for big game is more important than ever,” said Dave Hale, property technician at Billy Creek. “Colorado’s state wildlife areas are some of the best places for wildlife to find refuge during the cold-weather months.”

During winter, deer and elk migrate from the high country to lower-elevation areas in search of forage and safety. The animals feast on abundant vegetation throughout the summer and gain the fat they need to survive through the winter. Little food is available during the winter and deer and elk usually lose 20-40% of their body weight. Protected winter range areas provide some food sources and allow animals to remain undisturbed. Many elk and deer also give birth to their young at these two state wildlife areas.  

Unfortunately, too many people ignore the closures and animals are harmed. When they are disturbed they are forced to burn energy that they can’t afford to lose. By late winter many big-game animals are running on empty.    

“We know people like to hike and walk their dogs, but please do not enter closed areas during the winter,” said Rachel Sralla, area wildlife manager for CPW in Montrose. “It has been incredibly well-researched that disturbing big game during the winter has an adverse effect. We need to accept that our actions do add up and it’s the cumulative actions that take a toll on wildlife.”  

All closures are clearly marked. CPW officers will take the time to explain the reasons for the closures, but enforcement action will be taken if necessary. Those violating the closures can be ticketed and hit with a fine of $140.     

Hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in Montrose and Ouray counties are open year around, so there is no lack of places to hike, bike, cross-country ski and snowmobile.  

“We live in an area with plenty of BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands that are always open. Please, respect our vulnerable wildlife and explore other areas during the winter,” Sralla added. 

CPW asks the public to report violations of the closures. People are also reminded that it is illegal to allow a dog to chase wildlife in any location.  

For more information about the closures and public lands, please call CPW’s Montrose Service Center at 970-252-6000 or the Gunnison-Uncompahgre National Forest at 970-874-6600.

For more information go to the CPW web site: https://cpw.state.co.us