Last month, a full-grown mountain lion was killed in the Briargate neighborhood after it refused to leave a resident’s backyard. Days later, a bear was shooed out of a Security neighborhood, only to be trapped when it returned a day later.
Welcome to the 21st century in Colorado, where even the biggest, toughest four-legged creatures are finding it increasingly hard to find territory not overrun by humans.
Wildlife officers report they are spending far more time dealing with conflicts between humans and wildlife.
Bruce Goforth, a Salida-based wildlife biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, fears the urbanization of Colorado will lead to f u n d a m e n t a l changes in the “web of life” that has sustained wildlife for tens of thousands of years.
Goforth, who spent 16 years in Colorado Springs, said the Pikes Peak region is a perfect example of what’s happening across the state. During the past three decades, houses, ranchettes, roads, parking lots and shopping strips have spread from the western foothills east into the plains and north into Black Forest.
A glaring consequence for Goforth: Herds of antelope that once moved freely up and down the eastern outskirts of the city are gone.
“I’ve watched the migrating antelope up through that corridor totally disappear,” he said. “They’ve just been run out.”
More adaptable animals — for example, foxes, raccoons and skunks — have tried to carve out territories among the islands of grass, cover and water that have been left in the region. Larger animals, driven by easy pickings or adverse conditions in the mountains, scoot into drainages that crisscross the city to look for food.
That has led to conflicts large and small: mountain lions stalking hikers in the hills above Rockrimmon, bears eating berries in Broadmoor backyards and foxes killing cats near Patty Jewett Golf Course.
Goforth and other biologists say some folks in the region react appropriately, adopting a live-and-let-live attitude by keeping pets indoors, fencing gardens and not taking their garbage out until just before it is picked up.
But others, they say, demand wildlife officers remove, or even kill, the animals in their neighborhoods, or they swing to the other extreme and encourage the animals to stay by feeding them.
And it isn’t happening in Colorado only. From California to Massachusetts, conflicts between wildlife and city folk are growing, with wildlife officers under pressure to “do something,” said John Hadidian, the Washington-D.C.-based director of the Humane Society of America’s urban wildlife program.
“We are expanding into wild spaces that enhance the chance of encountering lions, bear and deer,” he said. “But they’re adapting to us, too.”
Goforth said many people living in bear and mountain lion country don’t adapt nearly as well.
“They call and want something done immediately, and we have to tell them our policy is not to come out and make them feel comfortable by eliminating animals that have traditionally lived there for thousands of years.”
That policy is not just philosophical but practical. This region has four wildlife officers, covering territory from Teller to Elbert County and from Palmer Lake to near Pueblo. Besides responding to calls from urban residents, the officers must fit in traditional DOW duties such as checking for fishing licenses and hunters’ tags.
Goforth and Hadidian said wildlife officers across the country are trying to convince urban and suburban dwellers that they can co-exist with wildlife by taking commonsense precautions and having patience.
“It’s a matter of education and understanding,” Hadidian said. “Most of us didn’t grow up with animals around us. We don’t understand them like rural residents do. We don’t have the typical live-andlet-live attitude they have. We need that understanding.”
If education doesn’t work, Goforth fears a growing chorus of complaints will force wildlife agencies into more radical action.
“What you’d have then,” he said, “is basically us out trying to eliminate and control wildlife by killing species with the idea you’re going to alleviate the problem.
“That means I’m looking at leaving a legacy for my children that is a whole lot different, and much more artificial, than the legacy that was left me.
“I’d hate to do that.”
WHERE WILD ANIMALS HANG OUT
Wildlife, especially smaller mammals such as raccoons, foxes and skunks, can be found throughout the urban areas of the Pikes Peak region.
Larger wildlife also can stray far and wide, usually by traversing drainages that crisscross the area. Conditions in the mountains, such as the recent drought, can drive down animals normally reluctant to enter an urban area.
There are some local areas where residents are more likely to encounter large wildlife, although the animals can show up almost anywhere in the region on occasion:
Palmer Lake, Rockrimmon, Broadmoor area: bears, deer Rockrimmon, Peregrine, Cedar Heights: deer, bears and occasional reports of mountain lions
Palmer Park: deer, occasional reports of bears
Patty Jewett Golf Course: foxes
Big Johnson Reservoir area: antelope
SOURCE: News reports and Colorado Division of Wildlife
HOW TO AVOID CONFLICT WITH WILDLIFE
- Do not feed wildlife. Place feeders for songbirds where they are not accessible to other wildlife species.
- Cover window wells with commercially available grates or bubbles, or make a cover yourself, to keep critters out of the basement.
- Close holes around and under the foundation of your home.
- Store garbage in metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, and place them outside only when pickup is scheduled.
- Keep pet food inside.
- Fence gardens and cover fruit trees with commercially available netting.
- Screen fireplace chimneys and furnace, attic and dryer vents, and keep dampers closed.
- Fence your yard.
- When deer appear in or around the city, leave them alone and they’ll most likely move on. Tranquilizing deer, elk and other large animals is a last resort.
- Commercial deer repellents or mixtures containing eggs can keep deer from shrubs and trees.
- Feeding deer is illegal in Colorado and carries a $50 fine.
- Dogs that are allowed to roam form packs and harass or kill wildlife.
- Dogs and cats left unattended, even in a fenced yard, are potential food for coyotes and mountain lions.
- During spring and summer, deer, elk and other mammals often leave their young while feeding, relying on the young animals’ natural camouflage to protect them. Leave them alone.