Wildlife Biology – The Role it Plays for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and for a Wildlife Officer

I have been able to do things for work that most people say, “that’s work” or “you do what for a living?” and commonly, “how can I get that job.”
District Wildlife Manager Scott Murdoch tends to a mountain lion
Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Scott Murdoch

My name is Scott Murdoch and I am a District Wildlife Manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). I work in the Conifer area along U.S. Highway 285 in part of Park and Jefferson counties. 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is the state agency responsible for managing the wildlife that calls Colorado their home. Our agency employs aquatic and terrestrial biologists, researchers, property and hatchery technicians, administrators, wildlife officers, investigators, engineers and many others to accomplish the broad mission of conserving and protecting the state’s 960 game and non-game species. More than 70 percent of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s wildlife programs to conserve and protect those species are paid for by the license fees from hunters and anglers. Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not receive general tax dollars to fund its wildlife conservation programs.

We Have a Biologist for That

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is made up of many biologists of all kinds. We have dedicated terrestrial and aquatic biologists focusing on the management of numerous species like deer, elk, sheep, moose, trout, warm water sportfish and amphibians. We have dedicated researchers that focus on management of singular species, interactions between species, habitat uses and the human dimension. Additionally, our district wildlife managers, who carry a law enforcement commission as wildlife officers and serve several roles, are all hired as a biologist first. It is that biological background that helps our agency manage wildlife using the best available science, rather than by feel and emotions.  

Colorado Parks and Wildlife prides itself with the broad array of different projects involving many species and habitats. From monitoring mountain plovers, to sage grouse lek counts, helicopter classifications and counts of deer, elk, moose, sheep and goats, gill net surveys of warm water lakes, electroshocking surveys of high mountain trout streams, toad counts, telemetry studies and habitat and vegetation studies just to name a few.

A Place of Peace

Greater Sage-Grouse
Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

I can tell you that in my 13-year career as a district wildlife manager, the biology portion of my job is one of the most spectacular parts of my duties. I can remember the first time I got the chance to fly in a helicopter counting and classifying deer in pre-determined and randomly assigned grids. The country was amazing to see, the amount of wildlife was remarkable and knowing that we were getting critical data to drive our population models to conserve deer was very rewarding. I have been able to do things for work that most people say, “that’s work” or “you do what for a living?” and commonly, “how can I get that job.” Early morning sage grouse lek counts where you are the only human for many miles, seeing bizarre birds dance like the act at the halftime show, and other wildlife roaming around like they did hundreds of years ago brings you to a place of peace.  

Shocking Adventures

team conducts electrofishing survey
Biologist and volunteers conduct an electrofishing survey.
Wildlife officer Scott Murdoch shows one large trout from a fish survey
Wildlife officer Scott Murdoch shows one large trout from a fish survey

If you want excitement, just go shock fish. Wait, shock fish? Yes, shock fish. Now do not be alarmed, it does not hurt the fish, it temporarily stuns the fish so they can be netted, counted, measured and weighed. It is an action-packed day of netting and scooping fish as they dart around dazed and confused. This data collected helps drive the regulations on a given stretch of river or stream and helps influence where we put the nearly 100 million fish that Colorado Parks and Wildlife raises each year to be stocked in waters for your angling pleasure.  

Now if peace or excitement isn’t enough, what about thrilling and physically demanding? Our sheep inventories are pretty neat. It usually starts off in the winter where we capture sheep and fit them with radio collars to look at movement patterns and mortality rates. The data gathered helps us with locations for lambing. We are able to find ewes (female sheep), identify when they give birth, track the survival of their young, and count and classify the individuals. Summer time often involves hiking, horseback riding, and climbing to find sheep at high altitudes and in some very rough country. The data we gather influences locations of critical habitat projects and our population models of the herds.

Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep. Photo by Jason Deutsch/CPW

The work of the biologist in the state commonly involves long and tedious days collecting samples, much of the time in poor weather conditions and in tough places. While you may not be getting rich doing this kind of work, the real reward is seen after spending a long day dedicated to the resources and in the name of collecting data. 

When I am sitting at sunset with a big ram silhouetted against the mountain range, sometimes I wonder if I should be paying to get to do what I do.

So the next time you see wildlife, know that the local wildlife officer is looking after the wildlife that you so cherish. If you would like to meet your local officer, please come with questions and share coffee with us at the following dates and times.

Meet a Wildlife Officer

If you would like to meet your local wildlife officer, please come with questions and share coffee with us on Saturday, June 26, 2021 at the following times.

Coffee with your local game warden on June 26 at:

  • Idaho Springs: 9-10 a.m. at Two Brothers Deli, 1424 Miner St.
  • Evergreen: 9-10 a.m. at EverBean by the Lake:  29003 Upper Bear Creek Rd.
  • Conifer: 9-10 a.m. at Ernie’s Mountain Bakery & Cafe: 30403 Kings Valley Dr Suite #105

In the coming weeks, we will look at other aspects of wildlife management in Colorado. If you have any general wildlife questions, please call the Northeast region Colorado Parks and Wildlife office at 303-291-7227.

Operation Game Thief

Poaching is a crime against you, your neighbor, and everyone else in the state of Colorado. Call 1-877-COLO-OGT toll-free or Verizon cell phone users can simply dial #OGT to report it.  If you’d prefer, you can e-mail us at game.thief@state.co.us. To learn more about Operation Game Thief, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Written by Scott Murdoch. Scott is a District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

This is part of a series of articles written by Officer Murdoch that will be distributed throughout the summer. Each will come out roughly a week in advance from when wildlife officers from Park, Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties host Coffee with Your Game Warden get-togethers, providing the public with an opportunity to meet their local wildlife officer and ask them questions.

One Response

  1. Thanks so much for the mention of 70% of funding in the second paragraph. I only wish we didn’t have ballot initiatives in this state ie ballot box biology.

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