By: Caitlin Willard Summit Land Conservancy
Utah, especially Park City and the Wasatch Back, is home to an abundance of wildlife including moose, elk, bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyotes, snakes, sandhill cranes and more! As the seasons change, these critters are on the move to forage, mate, and seek shelter in lower elevations. It can be exciting to see these animals in the wild (and even our backyards) but it is important to always show wildlife respect. From the pesky Uinta ground squirrel to the beautiful and majestic bull moose, wildlife does best when it is observed from a distance and left undisturbed. As more neighborhoods are built in prime habitat areas, and more recreationists hit our world-class trails, animals are experiencing an increased number of encounters and human induced stressors. It is important to understand these creatures so we feel better prepared to respond, enjoy, and stay safe during these remarkable encounters.
Always keep your distance and give wildlife a clear escape route (especially if offspring are present). Never crowd a wild animal; doing so could make the animal feel threatened, stressed and become unpredictable. It may be necessary for an animal to move out of the way before you can continue on. If it’s impossible to go around the animal and provide a wide berth, it may be time to head home and hike another day. By keeping a respectful distance, you not only keep yourself safe, but you ensure the animal can continue a long and healthy life free from human-induced stressors.
At the trailhead, always check the posted signs and warnings. Unusual wildlife activity is often noted with instructions or information about what to do and where the animal was last seen.
Keep dogs on leash, especially when on the trails. If you are bringing your dog onto the trails, it should be well trained and either on a leash or under voice command depending on local regulations. Roving dogs can chase, kill or injure wildlife. In addition, countless dogs are injured by wildlife encounters every year. If you can’t control your dog, then it’s best to just hit the dog park – we have plenty! If you live in neighborhood that has active wildlife, supervise pets when they are outside, especially at dawn and dusk.
Don’t toss trash or uneaten food along the trail. Human food can entice wild animals to forage on busy trails. If animals always find food on the trail, they will always go looking for food on the trail. Plus it’s just good trail manners to pack out everything you packed in.
Don’t feed wildlife. Feeding animals can interrupt their normal behavior and foraging habits which could eventually result in death or starvation. You can also endanger yourself. Remove wildlife attractants from your property, including pet food, water sources, bird feeders and fallen fruit. If your property and landscaping are attractive to deer and other wildlife, predators may follow the wildlife into your property while searching for prey.
If you encounter injured wildlife, leave it be. Injured animals can act in unpredictable ways. The best help you can give is by notifying local authorities upon your return. Plus, there may be a predator lurking nearby.
Recreate with a companion. Your conversation will help to alert animals of your presence and it’s nice to have a rescue buddy handy in case of any emergency or accident. Wildlife is most active around dawn or dusk. Keep your head on a swivel when going out at these times.
Keep kids safe by educating them about wildlife. Kids can be unpredictable on the trails. For safety while hiking, educate them about wildlife encounters and keep them within sight or in a group if possible.
Educate your neighbors and family about wildlife conflict prevention, and know when to call authorities. If you see an animal, you don’t necessarily need to call authorities. Animals may be active where they are normally found. You should call if the animal is acting threatening, aggressive, destroying property, occupying an area in a human development (e.g., under a porch) or otherwise acting odd. REMEMBER, if you call the authorities, the Division of Wildlife Resources will usually capture and remove your wild visitor. Let’s keep them around, even if they do crash our dinner parties from time to time!