Monthly Archives: March 2006

Peppered with Pumas: Experts say recent lion sightings no cause for alarm

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Camera file photo

A mountain lion moves through the snow in the mountains in central Idaho in January 2000.

By Zak Brown

Boulder Daily Camera

The sight of a mountain lion can inspire excitement, awe and, if only for a moment, fear.

The rarity of mountain lion attacks on humans is well-documented, although that doesn’t mean there isn’t any reason to fear such a powerful animal. And even if there is little chance a lion will attack a human, pets and livestock are at a real danger. So it’s news when a mountain lion makes a cameo appearance in or near civilization.

This winter, the news in Boulder County has been peppered with pumas. There have been multiple sightings in Louisville and Boulder this winter, the most recent a backyard appearance in west Boulder on March 20.

That high number of sightings may seem like a pattern, but local wildlife experts tend to regard them as people simply seeing what is already there. Mountain lions are our local ecosystem’s version of the reclusive celebrity.

“My feeling is that I’d bet that these things happen more than you’d believe,” says Marc Bekoff, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado. “I’m on the bike path a lot and I feel like animals are seeing me when I’m not seeing them.”

Sightings are fairly common in Boulder. Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Tyler Baskfield says he gets reports of sightings about once a month.

Moisture, or the lack of it, has a major influence on ecosystems in the West. Drought conditions can force wildlife out of habitual environments and into contact with civilization in order to find food or water. That was likely not the case this winter and likely won’t be the case this summer, based on projected water levels. The mountain lions’ main food source is mule deer, which means the lions typically go where deer go.

That includes the water sources for the deer or any other small prey. That’s likely the reason the lions ended up in Louisville, miles from the mountains yet close to water.

“That can happen if there’s a riparian area, or there can be a ditch that they can follow,” says Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the carnivore protection program at Sinapu, a Boulder-based nonprofit dedicated to the restoration and protection of native carnivores and their habitat in the southern Rocky Mountain region. “They certainly don’t like to be exposed and in the open. They are an ambush predator and they want to be right where they can hide themselves in tall grass. They don’t want to walk across the prairie.”

In January, a lion was reported near Keith Helart Park in Louisville, and a pair was seen near Annette Brand Park.

The public’s fear of mountain lions heightens when the animals are seen close to civilization. There have only been 17 fatalities from mountain lion confrontations since 1890, according to Sinapu. The biggest threat is to small animals and sometimes children. When there are sightings and the presence of lions is confirmed, outside pets should be put in kennels. Small children should play in fenced areas under supervision.

The March 20 sighting in Boulder, when a large cat was seen in the backyard of a home near the intersection of 13th Street and Cascade Avenue, was highly publicized. The animal was caught on camera walking through the snow and testing the lid of a garbage can to use as a springboard out of the yard (not to feed; unlike bears, lions don’t scavenge refuse, according to Keefover-Ring). The relatively lengthy footage of the animal slowly trolling through the snow provided an impromptu home version of “Nature” or “Wild Kingdom.”

For Bekoff, watching the video for the first time was a special treat. He was out of town when the video was publicized, but watched it while being interviewed for this story.

“The animal was displaced on the way somewhere. Frankly, that would be my guess. That’s the only other thing I could think of because it is walking so casually,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s weather-related. It could be just that a cat would be going somewhere else. I would have to say it was a lucky glimpse.”

Other recent sightings, Bekoff says, are likely just lions crossing paths with humans. There are several other times when humans are in close contact with lions but never see them. As ambush predators, lions require cover and have no interest in dealing with larger animals such as humans. For instance, Bekoff cites a photo of two hikers talking, with the face of an unseen lion in the grass a few feet from a hiker’s ankle.

“If you see a lion, enjoy the moment, because you’re probably not going to have that opportunity again,” Keefover-Ring says. “They are naturally fearful of humans. If they weren’t, we would have far more attacks.”

Common sense should prevail. But even with the recent sightings, the chance of being attacked is statistically so small as to be insignificant.

“We have a really rich deer population, so we have a higher density of mountain lions in Boulder. And they’re not hunted here,” Keefover-Ring says. “The great thing is the risk of an attack is extremely rare.”

Zak Brown can be reached at brownz@dailycamera.com.

Copyright 2006, DailyCamera. All Rights Reserved.

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A mixed dog in wolf's clothing

Breeders take a walk on the wild side to create a bloodline that’s both cuddly and dangerous

By Joe Garner, Rocky Mountain News

The eyes track you.

Wary, primitive eyes.

Luminescent golden eyes.

The eyes of a wolf in the guise of a dog. The animal’s bloodline seems to flow simultaneously cuddly and fierce.

How do you react to this exotic animal nuzzling you?

Is it a dog or a wolf, and how can you know?

“Your beagle at home is essentially a wolf, genetically,” said Ed Bangs, the Montana-based wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“All dogs came from wolves.”

Wolves were reintroduced at Yellowstone National Park in 1995.

Almost a decade later, in 2004, a wolf wearing a radio collar identifying it as a member of that pack was found dead on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs.

Last month, another animal identified as a migrating wolf was videotaped in northern Colorado, almost 500 miles from the park.

Such sightings inflame passions about the animals across the West.

Stockmen and woolgrowers oppose the return of wolves to the mountains where they were nearly exterminated after the first settlers arrived in the 19th century.

But, some admirers of the animals, who want their own badge of the outdoors, trade in wolves and wolf-dog mixes, serving the market for pups advertised to grow up on the wild side.

“There’s the macho man who thinks he’s hot stuff driving to town in his Hummer with a wolf dog on the front seat,” Frank Wendland said.

He and his wife, Pat Wendland, operate a Larimer County sanctuary for wolves and wolf-dogs that is called WOLF, an acronym for Wolves Offered Life and Friendship.

And, Pat Wendland said, “It’s not just macho males. It’s macha females who want to be seen with these animals.”

The Wendlands, and others who work with wolves, estimate that there are about 30,000 wolf-dogs in Colorado – perhaps 10 percent of maybe 300,000 captive wolves and wolf-dogs in private hands nationwide.

The trade in such animals is legal in Colorado, although some counties and cities prohibit ownership of wolves or crossbreeds, the Wendlands said.

In the wild, interbreeding is unlikely.

“A domesticated dog is more likely to be lunch for a wolf than a mating partner,” said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“In captivity, they can be bred, but in the wild, we never have had a wild wolf breed with a domesticated dog.”

Mixed-breed pups born in captivity, usually in a litter as small as two or as large as seven, are priced from $500 to $2,500, the Wendlands said.

Typically, the more wolf in the pup, the higher the price, they said. However, in the alternative, if the seller sizes up the buyer as someone who wants a more-domesticated pet, the less wolf in the pup, the higher the price, they said.

“What most people are looking for is a dog in wolf’s clothing,” Pat Wendland said. “They want an animal that looks like a wolf but acts like a dog.”

In addition to the macho male and macha female who draw attention when they parade a wolf or a crossbreed in public, Frank Wendland said, the animals also appeal “to tree-huggers who want to bring a little bit of nature into their high-rise apartments.”

“We, as human beings, whether we like it or not, still have wild parts in our psyche that we have become disconnected from,” he said. “We’re looking to reconnect with that wild side of ourselves.”

The link between humans and wolves is primordial. In Roman mythology, Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, left to die in the Tiber River, were suckled by a she-wolf.

In fairy tales, the better to scare and instruct children, wolves star in the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood.

“Today, in urban society, people still want a direct connection to the wild,” said Rob Edward of Sinapu, a Boulder-based advocacy group for wolves and other carnivores. “Wolves are beautiful. They are cool. They are good providers for their families,” Edward said.

“They can teach human beings a lot.”

The Wendlands share their mountain home with a pack of four wolf-dog mixes, a fifth animal thought to be pure wolf and sixth animal thought to be pure dog.

“They don’t live with us,” Frank Wendland said.

“We live with them. We live within their guidelines. We live in their society versus their being pets.”

The house rule is: Show affection to the animals and pet them, but do not play with the animals because play quickly can turn to competition in which nature rules.

“Domesticated dogs have been bred to be perpetually puppies,” Pat Wendland said. “They never reach the final stages of maturity.”

Even the cutest wolf-dog pies can grow into snarling adults, with bad dispositions, as they reach sexual maturity after two years of age – especially if the animals have been suburbanized so they cannot range up to 40 miles a day, as wolves do in nature.Left home alone, the puppies cannot follow their instinct to travel with a pack so they vent their frustrations on a sofa.

“People try to get rid of wolf-dog hybrids because they make bad pets,” Bangs said.

But, he said, “To release these animals into the wild is the cruelest thing you could do” because they have not grown to maturity learning to fend for themselves.

Among wolf advocates, the solution is simply not to put your hand in the murky genetic pool of interbred animals: If you want a dog, get a dog.

“We hope to see the day when having a captive wolf or wolf-hybrid is as socially unacceptable as smoking,” Edward said.

The Case for Coyotes

The most widely distributed, studied and persecuted species in the world, the coyote is the most successful medium-sized predator on Earth. An average coyote weighs about 35 pounds.

Like wolves, coyotes occupy den sites and have a complex family structure based around an alpha male and female, although they can also live alone, in pairs, or in a pack. They fiercely defend territories against other coyotes.

Coyotes can change their breeding and dietary habits, even alter their social dynamics, to survive. These clever animals exploit whatever is available, which allows them to subsist in a wide variety of habitats. Still, they prefer the more solitary places.

Coyotes are among the fastest of mammals, able to reach speeds of up to 40 miles an hour. Their speed and keen sense of hearing help them catch their prey, which includes mice, voles, prairie dogs and rabbits. Unlike wolves, which are strictly carnivorous, coyotes can eat some plant material, although 90% of their diet comes from meat.

Alongside ravens, foxes, wolverines, and other carnivores, coyotes scavenge the carcasses of animals killed by bears, wolves, and other predators, dispersing nutrients and seeds in their scat wherever they roam. Their influence reaches even further into the ecosystem; by limiting the populations of smaller predators such as raccoons, feral cats, and skunks, coyotes help maintain a dynamic balance between species, thus increasing the diversity of species in the ecosystem.
Stop the War!

Coyote carcasses displayed on a wagon wheel.Recent scientific evidence shows that human efforts to contain coyote populations may actually increase their numbers—indeed, their range has expanded three-fold since humans began extensively shooting, trapping and poisoning them 150 years ago.

Coyotes’ complex social dynamics, including breeding behavior, are controlled by the alpha pair in the pack. Should one or both alpha coyotes be killed, younger coyotes in the pack are “released” to breed. Thus, instead of only the alpha pair breeding, several pairs within the pack may breed, increasing overall population size.

Hunter's dog dies from device used to kill predators

Daily Herald

DEBBIE HUMMEL – The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The state is investigating the death of a pet dog killed by a device meant for livestock predators.

Samuel Pollock was hunting rabbits on federal land last month when he heard his dog Jenna, a Labrador-retriever-hound mix, gagging and retching.

When he turned around, he spotted an M-44 — a device that shoots a pellet of sodium cyanide when an animal bites or otherwise disturbs it — sticking out of the ground.

Jenna died about 90 seconds later, and there was nothing he could do but hold her, Pollock said.

Pollock said he saw on an entry road a sign warning of the deadly devices but contends there was no warning sign within 25 feet of the M-44 and it was within 50 feet of a pathway. Federal regulations require such warning signs within 25 feet and limit the placement of such devices to more than 50 feet from a public road or path.

Pollock reported the incident to the state.

An initial investigation by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s wildlife service division found there was a sign within 8 feet of the device, said Mike Bodenchuk, the director of the APHIS program for the division.

“We take that very seriously obviously we didn’t set out to do anything like that,” Bodenchuk said.

Investigators did not see the dog, and it wasn’t immediately known if a necropsy — an animal autopsy — was conducted.

Bodenchuk said the device was near a path made up of two tire tracks, but that the division didn’t consider that the “public road or pathway” outlined in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

The device was on land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management near Bruff Reservoir, which is about 15 miles to the southwest of Vernal.

Dogs are allowed off leash on most BLM land, unless otherwise noted, said BLM spokeswoman Lola Bird.

The area is popular for many forms of recreation, Pollock said. He said the path he was near is used by vehicles and should be considered a road.

“It’s just a shame. It’s not that I mind sharing the land with the cattle at all. They have as much of a right to be out there as me,” Pollock said. “I just don’t think that they should be allowed to put this stuff on public land at all.”

M-44s are heavily regulated and mostly used in winter and spring months when cattle are susceptible to attack or cows are calving, Bodenchuk said. The devices are sprayed with a scent that attracts coyotes and other predators. The small metal tubes stick out of the ground, about a thumb’s length.

He said it is uncommon for dogs to be killed by the devices, and the only other dog death that has occurred in Utah this year happened on private land where the dog and owner were trespassing.

The Environmental Protection Agency will be doing its own investigation.

The EPA has already contacted a pesticide investigator for the state Department of Agriculture and Food, asking him to determine if the M-44 was used according to regulations, said Larry Lewis, UDAF spokesman.

Pollock said Jenna was about 2 years old. She was buried in his yard with her favorite football.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page D4.

Group to fence out Boulder prairie dogs: Activists to press council for non-lethal solutions

By Amanda C. Sutterer

Broomfield Enterprise

Although fewer prairie dogs will enter Broomfield from Boulder after this weekend, the number of poisonings needs to decrease, animal advocates say.

With the help of the cities and counties of Broomfield and Boulder, a dozen volunteers will attach chicken wire to an existing fence between Lac Amora Park and Boulder County open space from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

The chicken wire will help lessen the number of prairie dogs that migrate across the border, Director of Open Space Kristan Pritz said.

For the past three years Broomfield has exterminated prairie dogs that cross the border from open space owned by Boulder County if they pose a threat to humans, Pritz said.

“If their burrows are close to people, they can be exterminated. …There are a couple areas where prairie dog burrows are adjacent to the trails and created a safety hazard,” she said. “It was a decision that is a reflection of what came up during our public review process, which was very extensive.”

Boulder County put up a fence to keep the animals from crossing, but it hasn’t eliminated all migration.

But animal preservation activists and longtime Broomfield residents Judy Enderle and Wendy Keefover Ring said the city should seek non-lethal solutions. Enderle is the president of Prairie Preservation Alliance.

Broomfield’s prairie dog management plan allows for emergency poisonings of the animals, but it lacks a clear and concise definition of what “emergency” means, Enderle said.

Because of that, Enderle said she plans to ask City Council to choose an alternative to prairie dog poisonings.

The city’s prairie dog management plan, adopted in 2003, calls for extermination as a last resort if animals cannot be relocated. Relocation hasn’t been possible since 2005 because the city has used the last of its identified land for prairie dog relocation.

“We’re going to propose that we determine where prairie dogs are appropriate and inappropriate and to look for non-lethal solutions,” Enderle said.

“Right now, staff chooses the lethal solution without going through any of the other steps that the management policy calls for. They are calling every situation an emergency situation. We need a better definition of ’emergency…'”

An emergency should be something that truly endangers the safety or health of residents, Enderle said.

“If a prairie dog digs a burrow on a soccer field, that is a real danger … that would be an emergency,” she said. “But a prairie dog doesn’t dig a burrow in a day — it takes weeks — so if you’re actively monitoring the sites prairie dogs are apt to inhabit, it is rare there would be an emergency.”

The definition of “emergency” includes allowing the killing of prairie dogs who appear “sick, injured, or are vagrants where their presence is inappropriate,” according to the prairie dog management plan.

Inappropriate areas include parks, playgrounds, parking lots, roads, landscaping of public buildings or other facilities, and open space lands designated as unsuitable for prairie dogs, according to the plan.

Enderle and Ring asked for a moratorium on poisoning prairie dogs in October, shortly after several prairie dogs were killed at the Lac Amora open space in western Broomfield.

On Jan. 26 the Broomfield Open Space and Trails Advisory Committee decided not to put a moratorium on poisoning prairie dogs, but discussed changes to administrative procedures within the management plan.

The changes included educating residents about prairie dogs, documenting prairie dog complaints, posting signs when burrows are poisoned and planting landscape barriers to prevent the animals from moving into certain areas.

The work on the barrier this weekend is a step in the right direction, Enderle said. Enderle will be one of the volunteers Saturday.

Copyright 2006, The Daily Camera. All Rights Reserved.

OPINION: Trappers’ proposal certain to make fur fly

GRAND JUNCTION SENTINEL

Under the guise of performing research and gathering data that, among other wondrous things, purportedly can be used to recover endangered species, the Colorado Trapper’s Association wants to undo part of a constitutional amendment that state voters approved a decade ago.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission should soundly reject the trappers’ petition when the commission convenes in Denver today and demonstrate that trapping rules adopted by voters won’t be overturned on such flimsy pretext.

Voters in Colorado approved a ban on most trapping, including recreational trapping, with Amendment 14 in 1996. But the measure allows farmers and ranchers to conduct limited trapping under specific circumstances. And it grants an exemption for “bona fide” scientific research.

Glomming onto that exemption, the trappers’ group says it wants to be allowed to trap live animals such as swift foxes, gray foxes, weasels, pine martens, mink, ringtails, western spotted skunks and opossums. By trapping, the group says it hopes to “restart the data stream” for these species, “by providing tooth, carcass and DNA samples” to the Division of Wildlife.

It’s no surprise that opponents of the trapping petition believe the real impetus is to allow trappers to catch and kill animals and sell their pelts, and only secondarily to provide animals for research.

Fact is, there is no evidence of a compelling need to trap and kill the animals in question “to restart the data stream.” No doubt the DOW would welcome more information on foxes, weasels and pine martens, but it can acquire most of that through radio tracking and live studies. In the few cases where some animals are causing specific problems, it can allow limited live trapping to capture those animals.

There is no need for a broad, statewide exemption to accommodate recreational trappers.

Trappers offer plan to kill more species

By Deborah Frazier
Rocky Mountain News

The Colorado Trappers Association wants permission to capture and kill additional species, a move its says could prevent the animals from being listed as endangered.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission will consider the request today. A similar request was rejected several years ago.

The species include the swift fox, which had been a candidate for the endangered species list, gray fox, pine marten, weasels, opossum, mink, ring-tailed cats and Western spotted skunks.

“We want to trap them to determine how many there are,” said Marvin Miller of the Colorado Trappers Association.

Tom Remington, section manager for terrestrial species at the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said some of the species have healthy populations, but there was little information on others.

“If we needed the information, we would live trap and release,” he said. “We appreciate the offer, but the small amount of information they could provide wouldn’t help much.”

He said mink, gray fox and ring- tailed cats were known to be low in numbers. “If any of the species were in dire enough straits to be candidates for endangered species listing, why would we allow trapping?” said Remington.

Miller said Colorado has so many swift fox, the state was collecting them to reintroduce the species to South Dakota.

More than a dozen wildlife groups oppose the request.