Have you spotted a bobcat taking a midnight stroll on your doorbell camera? Or biked around a trail bend to find a herd of elk moving steadily up the mountain? Both are great reminders that wildlife is all around us in Park City.
REMOVING BARRIERS FOR WILDLIFE MOVEMENT
Many wildlife species are on the move year-round. In the spring and fall, elk and mule deer move higher and lower in elevation to find food. Predictably, cougars follow the mule deer herds. Wild birds migrate north and south across the continent with the seasons.
Blair Stringham is the wildlife migration initiative coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. He leads a program that — along with help from university and conservation partners — collects location information from thousands of animals fitted with GPS collars or transponder tags to track migration routes.
“Many changes are occurring to the landscape as housing developments are constructed, roads are built, recreational use expands, energy development increases and natural water sources are diverted,” says Blair of Utah’s urban growth challenges. “These are impacting habitat itself, and connectivity between and within different habitats.”
Unfortunately, the most common form of wildlife-human conflict is roadkill.
Blair’s program collaborates with the Utah Department of Transportation to identify barriers and build wildlife crossing structures — such as bridges and underpasses — to safely divert wildlife away from high-traffic areas.
Recent work near Park City includes the construction of a wildlife bridge over I-80 at Parley’s Summit and over a mile of diversion fencing installed to direct wildlife away from Kimball Junction roadways. And there’s more on the way.
“Studies have shown there is a 90 percent reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions when there is a crossing structure and fence in the area,” says Blair. “We have been working to identify areas where migration routes cross roadways and more of these solutions can be implemented.”
LIVING IN A MOOSE’S KITCHEN
“Many people who move to the Park City area want closer interactions with wildlife,” says the division’s Central Region Wildlife Manager Sydney Lamb. “However, sometimes they don’t realize that also comes with living in a moose’s kitchen.”
Pressures on natural habitat mean that human-wildlife interactions are on the uptick around Park City as we move into their home territory through development.
And while many wildlife species are adjusting to these changes, some of the shifts negatively impact both wild animals and people — especially during drought years that have less forage and an increased risk of wildfires.
“Some of those adaptations mean that mule deer are eating available ornamental shrubs in peoples’ yards instead of the native plants that grew in the area before urbanization,” Sydney says. Sadly, as in the example of almost two dozen elk found dead in Utah County last winter, some deaths are caused by animals eating landscaping shrubs like yew, a non-native toxic plant.
And while people are often well-intentioned, Sydney discourages them from feeding deer, elk and moose. “Feeding deer congregates them in ways that can attract predators and spread disease,” which is dangerous for wild animals, humans and pets. “Also, introducing foods not in their natural diets is destructive to their digestive systems.”
“The best thing people can do in their neighborhoods to help wildlife is to give them plenty of space,” concludes Sydney. “Continue to enjoy the great outdoors, wildlife included! Awareness of our impact on wildlife is a basic first step to helping conserve wildlife and their habitats.”
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN YOU SEE WILDLIFE?
Below are some animal-specific tips, or you can visit WildAwareUtah.com for information about these animals as well as wild birds, bats, reptiles and more!
“People like seeing moose,” says Sydney. “But of all the wildlife we have in Utah, they can often be the most unpredictable when it comes to their interactions with people and especially dogs.” Moose are large, fast and territorial animals, and will act aggressively if they feel threatened. Your best bet? Stay well away from moose and keep your dog on a leash in moose country.
MULE DEER AND ELK
One misconception is that a deer fawn or elk calf found alone in brush or grass has been abandoned. “Newborn fawns and calves are usually born in June and are alone and isolated during their first weeks of life on purpose,” shares Sydney. During the day, a doe deer will visit to nurse and check on the fawn but will stay at a distance to keep from attracting predators until the fawn is strong enough to run. Help these young animals by giving them plenty of space — so they aren’t spooked away from their hiding spot and the mother can’t find them later — and do not touch or feed them.
COUGARS AND BOBCATS
“More and more people have seen cougars and bobcats on their security cameras, though this shouldn’t be cause for alarm,” says Sydney of these elusive wild cats. “Cougars have large home ranges and tend to use urban corridors as easy passage from one area to another. Generally, they are just passing through.” Also, bobcats will go after small pets and find chickens irresistible, so make sure they are kept in safe enclosures, especially at night.
Spotting a black bear — the only bear species in Utah — is something best done from a distance. Bears have an exceptional sense of smell that can detect food scents from more than a mile away. “They will eat anything and can be very destructive when trying to get to food,” says Sydney. “To avoid attracting bears to your home or cabin, make sure to store all garbage and pet food in bear-proof containers,” and if you are camping, never bring food or trash into your tent.
Contact the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (Wildlife.Utah.gov) if you see an animal that’s sick, injured or behaving aggressively.
Darby Doyle is a communications team coordinator and public information officer for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.