Setting boundaries is one of the hallmarks of successful human relationships, and recent human-animal interactions gone wrong indicate that our interactions with Colorado’s wildlife can benefit from boundaries, as well.
“Boundaries are not separation,” researcher and author Brené Brown said. “They are respect.”
It was not respectful for folks in (Colorado’s) Yuma last month to place a collar and leash on a coyote pup to feed him and treat him like a pet. The pup bit a woman, who is now undergoing a rabies protocol, and wildlife officers had to euthanize the coyote.
Earlier this year, a Woodland Park senior citizen was attacked by a deer in her home. The animal was comfortable walking through the door because the woman’s neighbor reportedly had been feeding and housing the deer. That’s not respectful to the deer or to the neighbors.
Last year, an Evergreen woman was cited and fined for keeping deer in her home, after a YouTube video showed her enticing a buck inside with food.
Just like adult food isn’t healthy for newborns – we don’t give babies apples and steaks – human foods are not healthy for wildlife. Corn, for example, can cause serious, even fatal, intestinal illness in deer. When we lure deer to our homes, we also are extending an invitation to predators such as mountain lions. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reports officers had to relocate a mountain lion that was holed up under a deck at a home in Englewood earlier this month. That’s dangerous for humans and domesticated animals, too.
In Clear Creek County, some residents have posted on Facebook and NextDoor their concerns about a resident they accuse of luring wildlife to her property. Justifiably concerned for the safety of their children and pets, they claim to have tried to reason with their neighbor.
As our state’s population grows, so do the number of reported encounters with all wildlife, including bears. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates the state has as many as 20,000 black bears, and says it has received more than 10,000 reports of ursine sightings and conflicts in the last two years. About one-third of those involve trash. On community-focused social-media pages around Colorado, scarcely a week goes by without complaints of folks placing trash at the end of their driveway the night before pickup, only to be ravaged by bears, who always know where to scrounge for leftovers.
Again: Boundaries, people. These practices are disrespectful to our neighbors, unhealthy for animals, and an eyesore when the contents of upended bins are strewn about the street.
Food and garbage are welcome mats for bears and, as they become more comfortable around humans, the results can be devastating. Although fatal attacks are rare in Colorado, they are not unheard of. In May, a Durango-area woman was killed by a sow and two cubs while walking her dogs.
“Food-conditioned bears, or habituated bears, looking for an easy handout such as your backyard bird feeder, can develop aggressive and dangerous behavior,” Cory Chick, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Southwest Region manager, said in a news release following the Durango attack.
Instagram and local Facebook pages are filled with photos and videos of bears, elk, foxes, and deer roaming neighborhoods and urban open spaces, and are especially engaging when those pics include little cubs, calves, kits, and fawns. Sure, the babies are cute, but feeding large game animals – both young and adult – is not. It’s dangerous, unhealthy, and illegal, and can result not only in serious injuries, illness and death to both humans and animals, but violators can be cited and fined.
Groups throughout the state, including Rocky Mountain Wild, Audubon, Durango’s Bear Smart, and Evergreen’s Wild Aware, are dedicated to education and fostering healthy and respectful relationships between humans and wildlife.
One of the obvious benefits of living in Colorado is our abundance of nature, but let’s remember to maintain healthy boundaries and practice some tough love when it comes to feeding. Part of being responsible stewards of our landscape and its wealth of flora and fauna is to love it enough to keep wildlife wild.
Mary Novaria is a writer who lives in Evergreen. She is a volunteer with Wild Aware.