Real estate ownership in Colorado is booming, and while that’s great for the economy, it also means real estate development is encroaching on previously wild lands. While building disrupts animal habitat, many species are thriving in urban and suburban areas. In fact, the Colorado Wildlife Control Operators Association reports that the density of many species, including black bears, are higher inside city limits than outside of them. Peaceful co-existence is possible with urban wildlife, but that involves planning and behavioral changes on the human side of the equation.
Deer won’t intentionally harm a person, but thousands of people each year are hurt in deer/motor vehicle collisions and some will die from their injuries. When driving, keep an eye out for deer and remember that if you see one deer in the area, there are likely several – or many – more in the vicinity. Deer can wreak havoc on gardens and landscaping. Commercial deer repellents might work, but your best bet in maintaining an attractive yard in a deer-heavy area is by using native plants that deer don’t find appealing.
Prairie dogs serve as a major food source for carnivorous urban wildlife, including eagles and hawks. These small herbivores can cause a lot of damage in a yard as they devour plantings and dig burrows. Keep prairie dogs off your property by creating a visual barrier, so they can’t view your yard’s forage potential. Since prairie dogs are scared of humans – and domestic canines – spending a lot of time in your yard, especially with your dog, can prevent them from settling in.
Colorado is home to 25 snake species, and all but the Western rattlesnake are non-venomous. Even rattlers don’t tend toward human or pet aggression, but they will strike if startled. Wear boots and long pants when out hiking to protect yourself, and carry a long stick when in grassy areas so the snake knows you are approaching. Keep your dog on a leash at all times. Keep snakes out of your yard by removing brush piles and keeping grass cut low. What’s worse than a snake in the yard? A snake in the house – so seal any openings larger than ¼ inch into your basement with caulk or mortar.
Most urban wildlife is more of a nuisance than a danger. The exception are the larger predators, and even they are more likely to run from a human encounter than stand their ground. Still, no one wants a bear or mountain lion in their backyard, or in the case of the former, entering their house. Protecting your property from sizeable carnivores primarily involves reducing or eliminating potential food sources. Here’s how to deal with the common Colorado predators:
- Bears – Black bears are Colorado natives, and as omnivores, will consume anything remotely edible. They can smell food from a distance of five miles. Once they discover a food source, they keep returning for more, so you don’t want to offer them any opportunities. A bear’s natural inclination is to flee from humans, so if you run into a bear, make as much noise as possible. You can also try chasing them away, but never attempt to corner a bruin. Do not run away from a bear. If out hiking, always take along commercial bear spray in case you encounter a bear on the trail.
- Mountain lions – Also known as pumas or cougars, mountain lion prefer to dine on deer. If you reside in an area with plenty of whitetails or mule deer as well as sufficient cover, mountain lions are likely your neighbors. Odds are you’ll never see them, as they sleep during the day and hunt at night. Much like giant housecats, mountain lions sneak up on their prey and pounce.
- Mountain lions rarely attack people, although a May, 2018 encounter between two cyclists and a big cat in Washington State made national headlines when one cyclist was fatally mauled. National Geographic reports that the mountain lion in question was an emaciated young male, probably so hungry that he decided to go after unusual prey. Keep in mind that this was the first recorded killing of a human by a mountain lion in the state for 94 years. If you do encounter a mountain lion, do not run away, even though that’s your strongest inclination. Running prey triggers the cat’s predatory response. Instead, make noise, make yourself look as large as possible, throw anything available at the cougar, and back away slowly.
- Coyotes – While coyotes rarely attack an adult human, they love to feast on small pets and have been known to go after small children. Large dogs aren’t immune to coyote attacks, although they aren’t as vulnerable as little breeds. When larger dogs are menaced by coyotes, it’s often by a team of the wild canines. While it’s less likely that a coyote will attack a dog when the owner is present, they’ve been known to attack pet dogs out for a walk on a leash.
- Foxes – Colorado is home to the larger red and gray fox and the smaller kit and swift fox. Foxes rarely bother humans, but they are famous for killing chickens, rabbits and smaller newborn livestock. It’s not uncommon for a fox to decide that the area beneath a shed or deck is an ideal place for a den. You can scare the foxes away, but make sure their kits, or young, are not left behind. If you discover a fox den, fill it in and then bury hardware cloth around it. Otherwise, they will just dig back into their former home. A motion sensor light will deter them from returning.
Keeping Wildlife Out of Your Yard
You can prevent nuisance wildlife encounters by taking a few crucial precautions. First, never leave food out for wildlife, and that includes bird feeders. While watching colorful songbirds at the bird feeder is a lovely diversion, you’re letting less desirable wildlife, including bears, know a food source is available. Feed pets inside, and never let cats and small dogs outdoors unattended. If you like to grill, clean up any food spills and drippings as soon as possible. Purchase bear-proof garbage cans and keep them in an enclosure or in the garage when they’re not at the curb. If you have a compost pile, enclose it. An open compost pile is the equivalent of a wildlife buffet.
Here are some additional resources you might find helpful.
- Living With Wildlife
- Wildlife in the City
- Urban Wildlife Issues
- Urban Wildlife Escalation
- Reasons for Cougar Attacks
- Conflicts with Animals in Urban Areas