Monday, August 24, 2009

DOW officials give advice on keeping animals off property [wild animals]

DOW officials give advice on keeping animals off property [wild animals, that is]

"The kennel had high enough walls to keep the dog in, but its placement below a block ledge would have made it easy for a mountain lion to jump in, kill the dog and jump back out. ... Most predators hunt at night and are most active at dawn and dusk. People should keep that in mind when letting pets outside. ... Wild animals can carry diseases easily transmitted to house pets. That’s a concern."

(Note: Although this article is from Colorado, and the state agency is the Colorado Department of Wildlife, there is much helpful information.)

August 24, 2009

By Melinda Mawdsley, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel "The Daily Sentinel is the largest paper on the Western Slope - distributing in 11 counties in western Colorado and eastern Utah."

P.O. Box 668

Grand Junction, Colorado 81502


Fax: 970-241-6860

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Conflict between wild animals and humans may not be as big a problem in the Grand Valley as it is in neighboring, more mountainous communities, but problems still exist.

Some local confrontations draw attention, such as the June incident in which a Redlands dog was killed, presumably by a bobcat. Other issues, such as a bear rummaging through an Orchard Mesa neighborhood in July, don’t receive much publicity because they are handled quietly.

Regardless of the animal involved, or the seriousness of the confrontation, humans and wildlife have to coexist in western Colorado, said Randy Hampton, spokesman with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Learning how to protect personal property is important because it keeps people and animals safe, Hampton added.

On August 12, Hampton and DOW district wildlife manager Elissa Knox showed up unannounced at four properties near Grand Junction to point out the things — good or bad — property owners were doing to prevent unwanted encounters with wildlife.

During visits to the four homes, Knox gave suggestions about how to best avoid visits from skunks and raccoons or potentially fatal brushes with a bear or mountain lion.

The tour began on I Road near a drainage area commonly referred to as Hunter Wash. The DOW has received complaints about coyotes in the rural area between Grand Junction and Fruita.

Hunter Wash and other drainage basins in the area are access paths for wildlife — prey and predator — to move from the high country into the Grand Valley, Knox said. Drainage areas provide drinking water and sheltering vegetation.

Consequently, Knox and Hampton wanted to tour a property off 20 1/2 Road because it was near Hunter Wash. Matt Krueger allowed Knox on the land.

Pet food for the dog was outside in a bowl near the garage.

“If they leave it out all night, raccoons and skunks will take advantage,” Knox said.

Pet food — and pets — attract wild animals. Smaller animals such as skunks or raccoons won’t necessarily attack a dog or cat.

On the other hand, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions — all of which live in the area — will.

Knox continued to walk around the property. A hummingbird feeder hung on wire under a patio overhang. Raccoons will climb on wires to get to bird feeders. And bears love to eat out of hummingbird feeders.

“It’s like candy for them,” Knox said.

A grill was below the hummingbird feeder. The grill was cleaned, and Krueger said the people who use the grill make sure they clean it because they know the smell attracts wildlife. But don’t forget to clean the drip pan, Knox advised.

Near the grill were live chickens. A wire fence kept the chickens inside, but it also will keep skunks, foxes and coyotes out.

“This is good fencing,” Knox said. “The mesh is small enough nothing can climb through. It’s strong with a good frame. The top is sharp, which is good.”

However, near the bottom was a hole with a heavy piece of lumber propped up against it, which would keep chickens in, but “if something is really determined to get in there, it will squeeze through,” Knox warned.

“I can walk out every night and smell a skunk,” Krueger said. “I hear the coyotes all the time over there.” He pointed toward Hunter Wash.

The property also had fruit trees, which “a family of raccoons will eat,” Knox said, and a large shed with horse feed. The feed is locked up in strong storage containers, Krueger said.

“This property is a good one (for potential wildlife encounters),” Knox said. “But it’s pretty well taken care of.”

The DOW tour moved from rural Fruita toward the Redlands, where the DOW has responded to animal calls of all sorts, Hampton said. The nearby Colorado River and Colorado National Monument are wildlife habitats.

Hampton and Knox stopped at Tony Miller’s house off South Rim Drive. Miller let Knox walk around the area, which overlooks the river.

His bird feeders were far from the house, and he typically does not feed birds in the summer. Both are good tips to follow if homeowners notice an increased wildlife presence, Knox said.

“I love wildlife, but I do everything to keep them wild,” Miller said.

He also had two fountains, which can attract thirsty animals, Knox said. Where thirsty animals such as deer roam, larger predators may follow, she added.

Knox and Hampton climbed back into the DOW Jeep and left the Redlands subdivision to tour another part of the Redlands that receives animal complaints: the Monument base.

“If you were a mountain lion and got to choose where you could live, this is the area you would choose,” Hampton said. The monument has a healthy deer population.

“Honestly, wherever you have a healthy deer population, there is the potential for a mountain lion presence,” Knox said.

Harry Hotimsky let Knox and Hampton walk around his property off Monument Road. Immediately, Hampton saw an open-top dog kennel placed below a ledge near the house.

“You don’t use that kennel, do you?” Hampton asked.

“Never,” Hotimsky answered back.

Chechu, a Labrador and Weimaraner mix, wasn’t a small dog, but it’s still prey trapped inside a kennel, Knox said.

The kennel had high enough walls to keep the dog in, but its placement below a block ledge would have made it easy for a mountain lion to jump in, kill the dog and jump back out. Mountain lions can jump 15 feet, Knox said.

Hotimsky said he hears coyotes “all the time” and frequently sees rabbits. When he first moved to the Monument area in 2001, he heard stories about homeowners losing cats or dogs.

Most predators hunt at night and are most active at dawn and dusk, Knox said. People should keep that in mind when letting pets outside, she added. Hampton heard a story years ago about how a coyote approached a home in the area and lured a dog away from a yard only to kill it with the help of other coyotes.

“It’s not only smart,” Hampton said. “It’s an adaptation. A rabbit will run from a coyote. A dog won’t.”

People who live in rural areas may be used to wildlife, and are well-versed about what they should or shouldn’t do to thwart encounters, but there are areas in the city where people might be surprised to learn wildlife and humans have made contact, and it didn’t always end well.

As recently as July 21, a bear was found rummaging through garbage off Edlun Road on Orchard Mesa near the Mesa County Fairgrounds. Because the Mesa County Fair was scheduled to start that week, the DOW had to locate the bear quickly to prevent a potential issue between the bear and 4-H animals at the fairgrounds, Hampton said.

Turns out, the bear in Orchard Mesa was the same bear found in early July inside the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. At that time, the DOW relocated the bear to the Uncompahgre Plateau.

“We pretty much put it in the middle of a berry patch,” Hampton said. “We want to give bears the opportunity to be bears.”

About one week later, the same bear, which had been tagged in Glenwood, was spotted in Gateway going through trash cans. It was never caught before it turned up in Grand Junction.

“It had become habituated to human sources of food,” Hampton said. “It had to be euthanized because it found human food over and over again.”

Don Sheffield, who lives near Edlun Road and has since 1977, said he didn’t see the bear in July, but he has seen a bear once. His property overlooks the Gunnison River. He let Knox and Hampton tour his property, which has a large garden. Animals have gotten into his grapevines and fruit trees, but it appeared as if the damage was done by birds, Knox said.

Electric fence will help keep skunks, raccoons and deer out of gardens, Knox said. Wrapping wire fencing around trunks of trees will help keep bucks from using the bark to rub the velvet off their antlers, she added.

Otherwise, she said, Sheffield seemed to have an understanding of how to live with wildlife.

“You are going to encounter people who are doing the right things,” Hampton said.

But Hampton said people don’t always do the right things when it comes to keeping wildlife away from their homes, and that can turn out badly for both animals and people.

Wild animals can carry diseases easily transmitted to house pets. That’s a concern. Wild animals will seek out human sources of food, which usually leads to euthanization of the animal, Hampton said.

But the DOW is not in the business of killing animals. It is in the business of managing wild game populations, he added.

“There is a need for people in Mesa County to understand that they live in wildlife habitat,” Hampton said.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has a wealth of resources for homeowners wanting more information about what to do to better live with animals in western Colorado. Go to or stop by the DOW offices at 711 Independent Ave. for brochures and answers.

Copyright 2009, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

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