Colorado boasts one of the most diverse and abundant wildlife populations in the world. The enormous variety of wildlife is one of the primary reasons Colorado is such a great place to live and recreate. However, with the state’s burgeoning population, managing wildlife and mitigating human-wildlife conflicts is an ever-growing challenge for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) state wildlife managers.
CPW’s wildlife managers have a diverse, demanding and difficult job. When they’re not enforcing fish and game laws, patrolling remote state lands or conducting fish and wildlife research, wildlife managers are active in their local neighborhoods and communities, educating residents on how to safely coexist with wild animals. And, if something goes wrong, they must act quickly and decisively to ensure public safety in dangerous situations.
In this Colorado Outdoors Online blog post, CPW’s wildlife managers offer a unique insight into managing wildlife and share tips and information that all Coloradans should know.
1. ‘Rescuing’ Wild Animals
Each year, we receive numerous calls from citizens who, with the best of intentions, have “rescued” a newborn wild animal. The most common situation is people who find deer fawns or elk calves in residential areas or along hiking trails and mistakenly believe that the animals were orphaned or abandoned. People also drop off baby birds, fox kits and a variety of other species at our CPW offices every spring.
Although these good Samaritans believe they are helping the animals, the opposite is actually true. Once you remove a wild animal from its natural surroundings, its chances for survival and successful reintroduction into the wild are greatly diminished.
The next time you see a newborn animal in the wild, remember this saying: “If you care, leave them there.” In the rare case that wildlife needs assistance, you should contact CPW or a licensed rehabilitator. A wildlife officer or rehabilitation expert can make an informed decision on whether intervention is in the animal’s best interest.
It’s also important to remember that not all young-of-the-year animals will survive. This is nature’s way of controlling populations. – Melanie Kaknes, District Wildlife Manager
2. Sick or Injured Animals
Like all people, state wildlife managers care about animals. After all, our dedication and passion for wildlife is why we chose this career. But when it comes to sick or injured wildlife, most of the time it’s best to leave animals alone.
With more than 960 species in Colorado, our primary focus is to manage wildlife at the population level. In almost all cases, the loss of an individual animal will not affect the statewide population for that species. In addition, the carrion (carcass of the dead animal) may benefit other species that rely on scavenging to survive.
It’s important to understand that sick or injured animals are part of the natural life-cycle. Although members of the public may find it upsetting when they see a debilitated animal, we should not intervene in most cases. —Larry Rogstad, Area Wildlife Manager.
3. Feeding Wildlife
One of the biggest problems we face as wildlife managers is people who feed wildlife. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most difficult violations to stop or prevent. Many people feed animals because they enjoy seeing wildlife in their backyards or because they believe they are helping the animals survive. Although throwing out a little hay, corn, pet foods or fruit in your back yard may seem harmless or like an act of charity, feeding wildlife can cause a variety of problems and has serious consequences for both animals and humans.
Many species of wildlife cannot digest human-provided, processed foods. Although the animals will eat any readily available handouts, they have sensitive digestive systems and can die from ingesting foods that are outside of their natural habitat. In addition, when animals gather in close proximity at feeding-sites, it makes them much more susceptible to chronic wasting disease and other pathogens.
Because the ecosystem is connected, putting food out for deer, rabbits or other small mammals also attracts unwanted species. Mountain lions, bears, foxes, coyotes and other predators move into residential areas—simply following the other animals that were drawn to the food. This places humans, livestock and domestic pets at greater risk.
Additionally, wild animals that become accustomed to people feeding them will begin to lose their fear of humans. In 2009, a Ouray woman was attacked and killed by black bears after she set out dog food, fruit and yogurt in her yard for the animals.
The bottom line is that feeding wildlife is bad for the animals and can have potentially dangerous consequences for humans. It’s also illegal. Song birds are the only wildlife that you can feed legally in Colorado. Just be sure to take down bird feeders until Thanksgiving, after bears have entered winter hibernation. –Brian Marsh , District Wildlife Manager
4. Euthanizing Bears
If you asked most wildlife officers what they hate about the job, many would tell you it’s having to euthanize bears. Each year, we are forced to destroy black bears across the state as a result of irresponsible human behavior. Many of these bears would not have been killed if people had taken the necessary precautions to properly store food, garbage, bird feeders and other attractants.
Bears quickly learn to rely upon human-associated food sources and will cause property damage and can become a threat to human safety. As bears prepare for winter hibernation, their search for food becomes urgent and almost constant in late summer/early fall. This means that a bear that casually visits a neighborhood for easy handouts in early spring may begin ripping doors off hinges to break into homes, campers and garages come fall.
Although CPW is responsible for the conservation of bears and other wildlife, the agency always places public safety first and foremost. Bears are the ultimate opportunist and will always be on the search for food, which is why it’s critical that people are doing everything they can to keep bears from finding food in residential areas or campsites.
For more information on how to prevent conflicts with bears, visit CPW’s Bear Aware Page. -Kristin Cannon, District Wildlife Manager
5. Too Close for Comfort
One of the great things about living in Colorado is you can see so many different species of wildlife anywhere in the state. Although it’s exciting to view and photograph wildlife, it’s important to remember that all wild animals can be dangerous and unpredictable—especially if they feel harassed or threatened.
When you get too close to wildlife you’re not only putting your own safety at risk, but you’re jeopardizing the life of the animal as well. If the animal attacks you, even if it was your fault by getting too close, we are required to put the animal down once it has harmed someone. Please keep this in mind the next time you attempt a close-up photograph or attempt to take a “selfie” with a wild animal. No photo-op is worth putting your safety at risk or having us needlessly destroy wildlife because of reckless behavior. Always enjoy wildlife from a safe distance, regardless of the species. This will ensure a safe and enjoyable encounter for both you and the animal.
The video above shows an example of what not to do. Thankfully, in this particular instance near Evergreen, no one got hurt. But, this bull elk nearly charged this cell-phone photographer who got too close. – Rick Spowart, District Wildlife Manager
6. All Outdoor Recreation Affects Wildlife
As we find more and more ways to enjoy the outdoors, it’s important to keep in mind that all forms of recreation have the potential to negatively impact wildlife. Most people underestimate their pastime’s influence on nature, believing that only traditional, “consumptive uses” – like hunting and fishing — bears an inherent cost to wildlife.
The fact is, wildlife pays a price to some degree for all of our outdoor pursuits; be it elk avoiding preferred calving meadows because of wildflower enthusiasts; the drone of motors affecting the ability of a song bird to attract a mate; or the gradual sedimentation of an alpine stream below a mountain bike crossing. Thus, the first step we must take toward responsible stewardship of our natural resources is to acknowledge that there is really no such thing as “nonconsumptive” recreation. – Chris Parmeter, District Wildlife Manager
7. Hunting is Critical to Wildlife Conservation
Although you may not choose to hunt yourself, it’s critical that you understand the important role that hunting plays in wildlife conservation.
Hunting is the primary tool for managing Colorado’s big-game populations. This means that hunters help control elk, deer, moose, bear, sheep, goat and mountain lion populations to ensure that animals do not grow beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat. Without hunting, animals can become overpopulated and are more susceptible to starvation and disease.
Additionally, hunters are the primary reason Colorado is home to such an abundant and diverse wildlife population. Because CPW does not receive general tax dollars to fund its wildlife management programs, these projects are paid for almost exclusively by sportsmen. The revenue generated from the sale of hunting licenses supports all of the state’s wildlife management efforts, including threatened and endangered species programs, wildlife reintroductions and habitat conservation.
For more information, see “7 Reasons Hunting Benefits Colorado” here on Colorado Outdoors Online. -Jason Duetsch, District Wildlife Manager
8. We All Need to Become Good Stewards of Wildlife
Colorado wildlife law is rooted in a rural ranching tradition that allows people to solve their own problems when dealing with many small-game species. Becoming self-reliant, developing good stewardship and learning how to coexist with wildlife is important for every Coloradan.
As wildlife officers, our resources are extremely limited. Most of us patrol hundreds of square miles alone, which means we cannot respond to every call. If residents can learn how to prevent conflicts and handle simple situations on their own, it will ensure that we are available to respond when more serious or dangerous circumstances demand our attention.
CPW’s “Living with Wildlife” webpage provides information on how to deal with some of the most common human-wildlife conflicts with raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes and other species. – Eliza Hunholz, District Wildlife Manager
If you enjoyed this blog piece, please share it. Help us educate other Coloradans about wildlife management and conservation.
Written and edited by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.