DENVER - Bouncy, big-eared icons of the American West, deer are declining rapidly across Colorado and other states — forcing difficult decisions.
The causes vary from energy development to hard winters and aren't always clear.
But dwindling numbers already have driven cutbacks on deer hunting, reducing potential funds for land conservation.
State wildlife biologists are scrambling to reverse the declines. This is spurring scrutiny of intensifying oil and gas drilling on federally managed deer habitat.
The nation's largest mule deer herd, located in northwestern Colorado, has decreased over the past decade by more than two-thirds -- to 32,000 at latest estimate, down from 105,900 in 2005.
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