Living with Wildlife: Moving to Steamboat means learning to deal with lots of wild neighbors
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the Move To Steamboat and the Yampa Valley magazine that was published Dec. 23, 2022.
Many people visiting or moving to the Steamboat Springs area may not realize their new home is a natural haven for a wide range of wildlife that become their new neighbors.
Black bears nab many of the headlines, but the Yampa Valley also is home to moose, elk, deer, fox, coyotes, mountain lions, prairie rattlesnakes, bald eagles, greater sandhill cranes, ospreys, grouse, racoons, skunks and more.
“We are surrounded by good wildlife habitat. The city of Steamboat is nestled in a valley, so we really are just butting into their habitat and often growing into it,” said Lexi Stine, director of adult programs at Yampatika, a nonprofit environmental education organization.
Steamboat and much of Routt County is surrounded by national forest and that proximity means more nearby wildlife. Plus, the diverse habitat across the Yampa Valley ranging from mountain shrub to riparian to forest zones ensure good habitat for a wide variety of animals.
“There is a little bit of everything for a lot of wildlife,” Stine said. “People are most concerned about learning what to do when they encounter these animals.”
That means newcomers should educate themselves about how best to interact and live safely with wildlife, ranging from securing bear-resistant trash cans to keeping dogs on leash.
Educators at Yampatika and Colorado Parks and Wildlife shared seven top recommendations, while advising that specific animals have different rules of engagement to learn. The experts encourage people to pick up brochures, sign up for an educational outing with a Yampatika naturalist or check out the CPW website for tips and short videos.
Be bear aware
Routt County is good bear habitat, and the proximity to natural lands combined with poor human habits attract some bears to live within city limits too. Be prepared to close and lock first-floor windows and doors, lock vehicles (yes, bears are smart enough to open some car doors) and seal spaces under porches and decks that bears, and other animals, may consider an attractive den. Secure trash and animal food inside a closed garage or sturdy shed, avoid hanging bird feeders and pick fruit from on and under trees.
“If you are not being smart about food sources, animals will become comfortable on your property,” Bubenheim warned.
If residents see a bear, enjoy the site very briefly, then make the bears very uncomfortable by honking horns or making loud noises from banging pots to using air horns. Learn more at http://www.SteamboatSprings.net/bears.
Mind the moose
In the past 20 years, the Routt County population of Shiras moose has increased sevenfold to an estimated 350 animals, including an estimated 30 moose that live on the national forest lands of the Steamboat Resort, according to CPW Terrestrial Biologist Eric Vannatta.
Give the large, long-legged moose plenty of distance and make sure to leave the animals an obvious escape route. Keep all dogs leashed. Dogs look like natural predators to moose, so when a pooch approaches a moose to check it out and decides to run back to its owner, the moose may follow.
“The biggest thing to remember is you could encounter wildlife at any time,” Stine said. “Keeping dogs on a leash is a really good way to make sure you are not bothering or harassing wildlife unintentionally.”
Stay alert on the trails
On trails or in open space, residents may run into various types of wild animals and should stay aware of the surroundings and make noise. Do not hike or bike while wearing earbuds. Some people chose to hike with a can of bear spray easily accessible in a side pocket, but learning proper use for the spray is key first.
“You should not be afraid of recreating, but educate yourself for possible encounters with some of our many wildlife species,” said Libbie Miller, CPW wildlife biologist for 26 years.
Let the babies be
Spring can be a time to encounter young wildlife. Do not pick up or “rescue” those cute little “orphan” animals. The mother is usually nearby and hides her young as she searches for food, or a baby bird may sit outside the nest as it learns to fly, according to CPW.
“What humans might misinterpret as ‘abandonment’ is actually wild animals living a healthy, wild life,” according to CPW.
Mind the signs
Some popular recreational areas and trails close from Dec. 1 to April 15 to protect winter elk habitat and again during the spring calving seasons May 15 to June 15. Respect all closure signs.
“Elk closures exist because elk are very stressed out during the winter and are essentially on a starvation diet,” Stine said. “They expend a lot of energy staying warm and moving through deep snow. Humans are usually seen as predators. If we scare elk in the winter, they run away and burn very precious energy and may be less likely to make it to the spring.”
Learn more at cpw.state.co.us/learn/pages/livingwithwildlife.aspx.
Drive with caution
Use extra caution while driving local roadways, especially at dawn and dusk, to avoid collisions with wildlife. Collisions with wildlife are very common due to travel patterns and migration corridors crossing highways and county roads. Slow down, stay alert, scan for movement along the roadsides ahead and be prepared for animals traveling in groups.
A critical time to be careful is during the early November change for Daylight Savings Time when more people drive home in the dark and animals can be migrating from higher to lower elevations.
Don’t forget the leash Routt County residents love their dogs, and many owners believe their canine is great with instant recall. But that is rarely true when a dog smells wildlife. Steamboat is home to several established off-leash parks for dog use, with more information available at http://www.SteamboatDigsDogs.com.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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