Co-existing with Wildlife
Co-existing with wildlife takes effort. This summer I have the good fortune to stay in a mountain duplex. The half I visit from time-to-time backs right up to wilderness. A large wall encloses the back and does restrict the view somewhat. However, the wall provides a buffer between man and other animals. Such as moose and bear.
We are very bear aware. Trash is kept in appropriate containers and food is not left around. So far, my only bear sighting came in the hour before dusk. I was enjoying the back patio when the crackling sound of twigs came from the area between the house and the creek. Jumping up, I quickly headed inside to look out the side window hoping to see the young moose once again.
My noise may have startled the bear. All I saw was his backside heading directly away from the house. His initial direction unknown. He was lumbering along, not too worried about whatever was behind him.
Wildlife Window View
I stayed by the window in case he turned around. But I think he may have ventured into the meadow down along the creek. This is only a guess, but an educated one. Shortly after the bear sighting a deer came down the mountain. Suddenly, the deer stopped still. As you can see in the photo, the deer’s head is cocked at attention. This position was held for close to ten minutes before grazing started again.
The deer are seen daily either as singles or doubles. Very unlike the herds of deer on the High Plains which often number over a dozen. I am uncertain of why there are not larger numbers here. Perhaps the number of predators keep the deer at bay.
In addition to either loud (moose) or small (bear and deer) warning cracks from brush breaking, the unique sound of a marmot signals wildlife or humans are nearby. The pig whistle from the yellow-bellied critter can be heard in this video. Marmots are smart animals. And patient. Often, I see them dash across the patio as soon as I retreat into the house. When they stand on their hind legs, they remind me of the crafty critter who stole the spotlight in the movie Caddyshack. Apparently, they hibernate over half the year.
Pig Whistle of Marmot
Moose but no Elk or Big Horn Sheep
On several occasions I have sighted moose. Much like the bear, one moose alerted me to his presence with a loud crack just outside the wall. The noise was very loud and startling. On the other occasions, the solitary animal has been spotted at the end of the drive as in this photo. Again, the best wildlife sightings are at dawn or dusk.
Surprisingly I have yet to see an elk. Nor a big horn sheep. Perhaps, both stick to higher elevations. I like to imagine the sheep are high up on a distant mountain meadow blending into the landscape. I swear I see fewer rocks and boulders upon the high meadow in the afternoons.
There is a program to introduce wolves back into the Rocky Mountains. Arguments exist on the number. Ranchers would prefer none and others want three times the suggested number of 250. I have a healthy wariness of wolves due to growing up with stories like Little Red Riding Hood and watching movies such as The Day After Tomorrow. Fictional but fearsome.
Bears and moose can be aggressive if provoked. But my experience has been one of mutual respect and mutual avoidance. Wolves are a bit of an unknown. The animals have their backers and their detractors. Articles following this post may be of interest to those studying wildlife and are quite helpful in forming an opinion. The wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone is particularly informative.
Wildlife Impacts on the Ecosystem
We learn about food chains in elementary school. Both adding or subtracting from the food chain impacts life throughout the system. A reintroduction of wolves in the Colorado mountains will bring about change. The key question is will it mirror Yellowstone?
The largest boost in wildlife after the reintroduction of the grey wolf in Yellowstone was to the beaver population. Beavers compete with elk for food. So, fewer elk meant more to eat for nature’s engineers. And expanded riparian habitat is the next step in the cycle. This is important because the wetlands act as firebreaks. Scientists are currently studying the relationship between beavers, wetlands and forest fires.
The species most negatively impacted by wolves returning to Yellowstone is the elk. Herd size is shrinking, and the herds are moving around. This movement has both good and bad implications. The aforementioned beavers have less competition from roaming elk herds. But the stress of the elk now constantly on alert has decreased the birth rate. Furthermore, the estimation of how many elk would be prey per wolf fell short of the actual numbers.
How Many is too Many?
The Yellowstone reintroduction began with fewer than three dozen wolves. Within ten years the population increased eight-fold. A key contention point for the Colorado reintroduction is how many pairs will be released. Even the lowest figure of 250 (125 pairs) is roughly ten times the number reintroduced into Yellowstone. Currently, the upper number proposed is 750 individuals or 375 pairs.
Another element that varies from the reintroduction at the end of the last century is the area of release. The initial release was confined to Yellowstone Park in the far northwest corner of Wyoming. The Colorado reintroduction could cover a far greater area. One proposal includes areas both east and west of the Continental Divide. Wildlife areas adjacent to the populated Front Range may be release sites.
Personally, I would start small. Wolves do cover a large territorial range. There is indication that offspring of the original groups released in Yellowstone have made their way south into the far northeast corner of Colorado. This migration occurred in a span of about 25 years. Wildlife will wander.
A Balance of Nature
The reintroduction of predatory species needs balance. Man upset the natural order while settling the country. However, much thought needs to go into the planning. Co-existing with wildlife is possible, but awareness is needed. Even though many animals are smart, humans still have the edge on critical thought. So, let’s use that advantage as we seek to re-balance the eco-system.
Helpful Resources for Researching Wildlife
Colorado’s Wolf Reintroduction Planning Off to Rocky Start – Rocky Mountain Wolf Project
Wildlife groups blast Colorado Parks & Wildlife wolf reintroduction process (coloradosun.com)
OR: Are wolves dangerous? | Timber Wolf Information Network
Wolf Reintroduction Changes Yellowstone Ecosystem (yellowstonepark.com)
The Wolves in Yellowstone: A Classic Conservation Story – Outforia
Gray Wolf – Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
Beavers – Rocky Mountain National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
Colorado Parks & Wildlife – Living with Beavers (state.co.us)
Beavers could be Colorado’s secret weapon to cleaning rivers and abandoned mines (rmpbs.org)
Even Colorado’s Largest Wildfire Was No Match For Beavers | KUNC