Humans and Wildlife on the Western Slope: A Roommate Agreement
Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of SPOKE+BLOSSOM
Residents of the Western Slope of Colorado come in all shapes and sizes. Some have four legs, some have two; there are those who are quite furry and those who are less so; some residents love Netflix, and others prefer hibernation. The one thing we all have in common is that we can’t wait for summer.
Beautiful weather gives both wildlife and humans more reason to be outside, living and playing in the same areas. Animals are often referred to as our neighbors, but in reality, they are more like our roommates. Although we sleep in different places, we share all outdoor spaces including parks, campgrounds and our own backyards, and, just like human roommates, we don’t always get along. Sometimes, wildlife is like that roommate you never see who has a completely different schedule and keeps entirely to themselves. Most are more active at night, brushing through our lives at dawn or dusk. While we can usually close the door to our house or RV, or zip up the tent and expect a certain level of privacy, whenever we step outside, we need to be aware that we are living in the common area.
Much like roommates sharing a crowded house, as the population grows, humans and wildlife often find themselves stepping on each other’s toes. If we do not work hard to respect each other, dangerous and unfortunate interactions can occur. For example, in 2018, a five-year-old girl was attacked by a bear in her yard, a mountain lion was killed on Highway 340 and several other nuisance predators had to be relocated or euthanized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Grand Junction residents regularly report deer in their yards, skunks under their porches and coyotes on their ranches. Despite these past conflicts, however, there are ways for the human residents of the Grand Valley to get along with their wildlife roomies and respectfully share the same space. Below is the roommate agreement for local humans and wildlife.
1. Always put away food
Don’t want your roommates to steal your favorite treats? Don’t leave them lying around on the kitchen counter where the temptation may be too much. This means lock away your trash at night, and always clean up your campsites and picnics.
2. Be extra considerate during busy times
Every roommate has a busy time of day when they are trying to get where they need to go. Conflicts arise when those roommates focus only on their own haste and needs and forget to be aware of the needs of others. Wildlife is most active at dusk and dawn. As we drive, hike or ride during those times, we need to move more slowly and pay extra attention to the presence of animals.
3. Respect privacy
In the same way that humans need space from each other and the ability to rest in a quiet environment without people just barging in, wildlife need their space. Don’t chase animals for photographs. Respect wildlife closures on trails, and don’t stress herds and flocks by approaching them.
4. Keep common areas clean
If we trashed the TV room or kitchen in our home and left the mess for our roommates, conflict would inevitably occur. We would also never walk into their bedroom, eat a sloppy joe and leave barbecue sauce where they sleep. We need to treat our campgrounds and trails like the bedrooms of our animal roommates. Those outdoor spaces are their homes, dens and nests. The mess we leave destroys habitats and sets the stage for future conflict.
5. Don’t lock them out of the kitchen
Resources, especially water, are essential to the health of our animal roommates. Food is most plentiful in areas near rivers, lakes and ponds, and animals will actively seek those out. Share access to these resources by maintaining greenspaces and undeveloped corridors and not trashing water sources with litter. If animals cannot find their natural food sources, they will start to look for it in our dumpsters, backyards and livestock.
6. Sometimes things go too far
Unfortunately, even the best efforts sometimes cannot maintain a healthy relationship between roommates, and changes have to happen. If predators act aggressively toward humans, attack livestock or consistently attempt to break into cars or trash cans, they need to find a new place to live. When this happens, residents should immediately contact the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office with information about the incident. Problem animals are tagged, like a warning, but may be relocated or even euthanized if their behavior constitutes a threat to human life. This is obviously the worst-case scenario, and one which our respectful actions and choices can do a lot to prevent. Get to know your roommates, learn about their habits and needs and respect their privacy.