It’s cute until it isn’t.
A marmot waddles up to you, stands up on his hind legs and sniffs around. That’s cute.
A mountain goat stares at you from five feet away, and you shoot a photo of the adorable creature with mom in the near background. Cute.
A deer perks up its ears and looks at you with those doe eyes (Deer are naturals at this). You hold out your hand, and it comes right up for a treat. Oh so cute.
Yep, all fun and games.
The corollary is that for every incident such as this, there is the bear that claws a large swath out of your tent, a mountain goat that digs out the tender tundra for a chunk of your urine and a raccoon that rips up your garden for the juicy, precious plants.
Since the days when people posed for photos with bears and buffalo along Yellowstone National Park roads (What am I saying? They still do), we’ve become a little smarter. A little smarter. At least from a public-relations perspective, the official word is to not feed the wildlife.
Whether people really can rein in their apparent natural tendency to help an animal in need or their self-centered urge to put some grub outside their house to attract “wild” creatures is another story. One that we’ll explore here today as we focus on the city and rural-urban interface.
So stay tuned to be enlightened on these tidbits, and more: Corn is like ice cream, bird feeders can indirectly attract mountain lions and hay is a strong lure for sharks.
Winter is a difficult time for many animals, so you might be tempted to help out that scraggly looking deer you’ve seen around. Well, don’t do it, wildlife experts say.
When you put out food and concentrate deer in an area, one result is to attract mountain lions, said Steve McClung, a game warden – or more officially, district wildlife manager – with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The mountain lions want the deer, and they can pose a danger to pets and possibly humans.
Concentrating deer has another effect.
“You increase the likelihood of disease transmission,” McClung said. “(Deer) normally browse at some distance from one another.”
Need another reason? Depending on what you’re feeding deer, you could really be doing it a disservice. Corn, hay (in the winter) and bird seed aren’t what the deer need.
“Corn is like ice cream in a way,” McClung said. “It’s not something they can make a steady diet of and get their nutritional needs met.
“Their digestive systems were set up to eat the natural browse that they normally eat.”
Bird feeders may seem benign, but they’re not, said Maureen Keilty, chairwoman of the La Plata County Living with Wildlife Advisory Board. If they’re hung too low they can attract deer. Even if they’re hung high, seed gets spilled, and that can bring in deer, too, said Keilty, who lives in the Rafter J area. A mountain lion visited her neighborhood under that circumstance. Another neighbor leaves water going all the time, and the same mountain lion visited there for a drink, she said.
“I was not happy about that at all,” she said.
Keilty’s advice for bird feeders? Hang ‘em high.
She has a screen hung below her feeder to catch any seeds that sloppy birds might spill. It’s 6 inches wider than the feeder. It not only makes it impossible for deer to get at it, but the seed can’t be accessed by mice, skunks and squirrels.
“That’s the solution I feel comfortable about,” she said.
People in some areas of Durango, for instance on the west side in the Crestview area, regularly feed deer, Keilty said.
“I think it’s just this naive innocence: ‘They’re so pretty. They were here first, and let’s let them in our backyard.’”
McClung said feeding deer isn’t a rampant practice here, but it is a problem.
“If we see it happening or get a report, we’ll knock on the door and usually have a chat with folks,” said McClung, who moved to Southwest Colorado from the Front Range in 2012. “Oftentimes, explaining the reasons why it’s a bad idea is good enough, and people will stop; if they don’t stop, we issue citations.”
Feeding bears, whether it’s accidentally or purposefully by having your garbage outside, borders on cruel. Keilty said she hopes that, like a successful campaign decades ago to wear vehicle seat belts, the “don’t-feed-the-bears” message becomes universal.
“It’s getting better, maybe,” she said. “We’ve gotta be aware that feeding bears results in killing them.”
So, I hope we all learned something today. I know I did. Oh yeah, almost forgot. The shark thing. Turns out, I was misled. Apparently sharks – at least those in La Plata County – do not eat hay. Just don’t leave your goldfish outside.
firstname.lastname@example.org. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.