John F. Russell: Living in Steamboat Springs means living with wildlife
Steamboat Springs — There is no question that the great outdoors is one of the reasons so many people want to live in the Yampa Valley.
Where else can you stroll down the Yampa River Core trail and find an entire family of moose at home in their natural surroundings? Growing up in the Denver metro area, I’ve come to realize just how special coming across wildlife can be, and for the past 25 years, I’ve enjoyed photographing everything from moose to bald eagles. I’ve crossed a field to see how close I could get to a coyote, and while I’ve never seen one in the wild, I’m hoping someday to photograph a mountain lion hanging out in a tree or walking along a trail on Howelsen Hill.
Steamboat Springs is a special place to live, and every day I’m here, I feel privileged to have a chance to see majestic animals. I feel privileged to photograph them.
I’ve also learned a few things. Most importantly, I’ve learned to keep my eyes open. You never know what you will find around the next corner, and if you hope to make an image, it’s important to be ready.
I’ve also learned a certain degree of respect for the animals that live here. I admit I like to get close, but not so close that I put myself or those around me in danger. I’ve learned to keep my distance, and I’ve learned to be aware of the sounds wild animals make and to notice when the hair is standing up on the backs of their necks. I know when a fully grown mama bear stands up as her clubs scramble to the nearby woods, I’ve probably gotten too close.
In my camera bag, I pack the tools of the trade. I have a long telephoto lens, so I can keep my distance and still get the shots I want. I have never used my phone to grab a shot of a moose.
I’ve also learned the bears and moose normally draw the biggest crowds, and I understand that one of the most dangerous animals you will ever encounter in our neck of the woods is that awkward-looking moose. It may seem as though they are not paying attention, but the truth is, they know you are standing there.
I’m always been amazed at the crowds moose generate and how bold the people who come out to see them can be. I’ve seen people stand a few feet from this huge animals and photograph themselves with their phones. One of the reasons I use a really long lens to photograph moose is because I want to get close, and a couple hundred millimeters is enough of a head start to find a safe spot if the moose grows tired of posing.
Fortunately, I’ve never seen a moose go after a person. The moose in Steamboat Springs seem to be pretty tolerant of people who are willing to put their own safety on the line for a cellphone photograph that’s normally not in focus anyway. But that doesn’t stop people from wanting to get close, and that doesn’t put people out of the line of an angry moose. In the past, I’ve talked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers who fear a moose-human altercation is a real possibility.
There’s no question that the great outdoors is one of the reasons we all want to live in Steamboat Springs, and there’s no question wildlife is a big part of the experience. We need to be aware that we live in these animals’ home, and there is a good chance you will come across a bear or moose when you least expect it.
My advice is to give these animals a little room. Be smart, and enjoy the moment. After all, isn’t that why we all live in Steamboat.
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