New area wildlife manager Kris Middledorf struck by community’s devotion to conservation, wildlife
Steamboat Springs — The wealth of habitat, air quality and diversity of species found in close proximity to Steamboat Springs have already made a big impression on Kris MIddledorf, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s new area manager here.
“I went for a drive and saw several hundred cranes,” Middledorf said. “The species’ richness seems to be higher here than where it was (in Boulder County). Every day, when I walk outside and breathe in the air, it has an almost sweet taste to it. I hold close to my heart that we can maintain that.”
He was also struck, he said, by how important the landscape is to the Routt County community and how highly people value wildlife.
Middledorf, who is replacing retired area wildlife manager Jim Haskins after his retirement in late June, feels a strong bond to Boulder. He grew up there in an outdoor family —camping, fishing and hunting with his father. But the air quality on the Front Range was concerning.
“You can be at 13,000 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, look east and see the haze,” Middledorf said. “It affects the overall experience. Here, it’s almost pristine. The views are like 1080p high definition compared to an old tube television.”
MIddledorf’s District 10 comprises all of Jackson County and most of Routt County. Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area 6 nips off the northwest corner of Routt, and the far southern part of the county is included in Area 8 along with Eagle and Pitkin counties.
Middledorf supervises five district wildlife officers based in Steamboat and two in Walden, as well as a property technician assigned to state wildlife areas in each community.
A former U.S. Marine, Middledorf is proud of his four years of service, spent primarily in Southeast Asia. He is married, with two young children, a boy and a girl. Upon returning to civilian life in Colorado, he obtained his degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University with an eye toward a career in natural resources.
As much as he’s cognizant that his mission is to preserve wildlife habitat, MIddledorf said that as he begins his tenure here, his emphasis is on forming relationships with stakeholders, businesses and local governments.
“Relationships are extremely important,” MIddledorf said. “We’re diplomatically trying to identify solutions.”
Familiar with urban bears
Steamboat has an ongoing issue with bears getting into trash cans, cars and homes and Middledorf is familiar with the challenge. He has a wealth of experience managing problem bears, particularly on Boulder’s west side.
He said he worked with the city of Boulder in 2012 and 2013 on a proposal to study the relationship between human behavior and law enforcement in the context of problem bears.
“We chose 500 homes in West Boulder and over two years looked at every single trash can in that area,” Middledorf said. “We wanted to look at how to change human behavior,” in that regard.
The study concluded that people will respond to escalating fines, but the urgency of a bear problem has to reach a level of seriousness before people become genuinely concerned.
“The issue has to be ripe, and you have to have all the right people in the room who are actively engaged,” Middledorf said. “Leaving people out of the conversation is not good business and not the way to find solutions to the problem.”
Boulder added employees in its code enforcement department to enforce bear regulations but ultimately learned that going door-to-door to educate households and fine residents is “very expensive.” The city of Boulder ultimately mandated bear-proof trash containers in neighborhoods west of Broadway Avenue.
“None of this would have worked out had we not worked with stakeholders who were invested in finding ways to minimize bear/human conflicts — trash haulers and community partners (like the) Boulder Bear Coalition,” Middledorf said.
When addressing problem bears in Routt County, Middledorf said it will be important to take the community values of the various towns into consideration.
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