Possibly one of the major reasons you moved to the mountains was seeing a herd of majestic elk grazing in an open field. In the foothills, we are fortunate to have an enormous diversity of wildlife sharing the land, water and sky with us.
Viewing wildlife on a drive or hike in the area is one of the most special things about living in the foothills, but conflicts with wild animals can turn dangerous or even deadly, so it is important to find effective solutions to prevent and respond to encounters with wildlife.
In most situations, people and wildlife can coexist. The key is to respect the wildness of wildlife. Most dangerous and potentially harmful encounters occur because people fail to leave animals alone. Wildlife should not be harassed, captured, domesticated or fed. Intentional or inadvertent feeding is the major cause of most wildlife problems, and it is illegal to feed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn, and elk in Colorado.
Make The Most of Your Wildlife Viewing
Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Watchable Wildlife program offers the following tips and advice for rewarding, safe, and responsible wildlife viewing.
- Observe animals from a safe distance—safe for you and safe for the animals. You can get a close-up view by using binoculars, a spotting scope, or a camera with a telephoto lens.
- Move slowly and casually, not directly at wildlife. Allow animals to keep you in view and do not surprise them. Avoid eye contact; watch from the corner of your eye.
- Never chase or harass wildlife. Harassment of wildlife is unlawful, and can be extremely harmful.
- Leave your pets at home. At best, their presence hinders wildlife watching. Worse, they can chase, injure, or kill wildlife, or be injured or killed.
- Use the animals’ behavior as a guide. Limit the time you spend watching if animals appear to be stressed.
- Respect others who are viewing the same animals.
- Do not feed wild mammals. Reserve feeding for “backyard” birds. See Feeding Wildlife Puts Everyone at Risk and Living with Wildlife pages for more information.
- Respect private property. Ask for permission to access private lands before your viewing trip.
- Animals at rest need to remain at rest. Don’t do anything that might make them move.
- Avoid animals that behave unexpectedly or aggressively. They may be ill, injured, or have young nearby.
Living with Bears
Curious, intelligent, and very resourceful, black bears will explore all possible food sources, especially trash cans. If they find food near homes, campgrounds, vehicles, or communities, they’ll come back for more. Bears will work hard to get the calories they need, and can easily damage property, vehicles, and homes. Bears that become aggressive in their pursuit of an easy meal must often be destroyed.
- Don’t feed bears, and don’t put out food for other wildlife that attracts bears.
- Be responsible about trash and bird feeders.
- Burn food off barbeque grills and clean after each use.
- Keep all bear-accessible windows and doors closed and locked, including home, garage and vehicle doors.
- Don’t leave food, trash, coolers, air fresheners or anything that smells in your vehicle.
- Pick fruit before it ripens, and clean up fallen fruit.
- Talk to your neighbors about doing their part to be bear responsible.
If you see a bear, do your best to chase it away. Yell, blow a whistle, clap your hands, and make other loud noises. But never approach a bear.
Living with Mountain Lions
Mountain lions are generally calm, quiet, and elusive. They tend to live in remote, primitive country with plentiful deer and adequate cover. Such conditions exist in mountain subdivisions, urban fringes, and open spaces.
People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild. Lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years. Most of the attacks were by young lions, perhaps forced out to hunt on their own and not yet living in established areas. Young lions may key in on easy prey, like pets and small children.
No studies have been done to determine what to do if you meet a lion. However, based on observations by people who have come upon lions, some patterns of behavior and response are beginning to emerge. With this in mind, the following suggestions may be helpful.
Remember: Every situation is different with respect to the lion, the terrain, the people, and their activity.
- Go in groups when you walk or hike in mountain lion country, and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick is a good idea; it can be used to ward off a lion. Make sure children are close to you and within your sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
- Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
- Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly and firmly to it. Move slowly.
- Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
- Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.
- If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.
- Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up!
Living with Elk
Living in Colorado, it’s easy to take for granted our enormous elk herds. After all, Colorado is home to more than 280,000 animals—the largest elk population in the world.
- Elk are social animals, living in herds for much of the year. During spring, summer, and winter, elk tend to split into cow–calf herds and bull herds.
- Elk require large amounts of food because of their body size and herding tendencies.
- During the mating season (rut) in early fall, adult and subadult bulls find and temporarily join cow herds. The larger, more aggressive bulls try to gather harems of cows, which they defend against competing bulls.
- Bull elks can reach a size upwards of 700 pounds, so give them plenty of room.
- When counting the ‘points’ on an elk’s rack in Colorado, you count the number of points over 1” on each side,so for example, a bull elk with 4 points and one side and four on the other is called a ‘four by four.’ East of these parts, it would be called an 8-point rack.
Invasive species are plants, animals, insects or diseases that are not native to Colorado and have harmful negative effects on the economy and environment. They are introduced accidentally or intentionally outside of their native range. Because they are not native to Colorado habitats, they have no natural competitors or predators. Without these checks and balances, the invaders are able to reproduce rapidly and out-compete native species. Invasive species have harmful effects on natural resources and disrupt our use of land and water. Invasive species…
- Damage Colorado’s lands and waters
- Hurt the economy
- Ruin recreation opportunities
- Threaten public health
- Damage or impair infrastructure
Top invasive plants
- Meadow Knapweed
- Purple Loosestrife
- Yellow Starthistle
Top invasive pests
- Emerald ash borer
- Gypsy moth
- Japanese beetle
Colorado Parks & Wildlife Website