Steamboat Springs The Milner Landfill's new mascot, Stinker the Skunk, has been given a reprieve from death row, but state wildlife officials are warning that keeping wild animals is against the law.
"None of us really realized the full implication of it," said landfill manager Doug Bell whose pet skunk often greeted stunned customers at his office.
Bell was visited by Division of Wildlife District Manager Libbie Miller after Steamboat Today published a small feature on the landfill's new pet skunk.
Miller explained that animals such as skunks and raccoons are on the "prohibitive species list," which means humans can't keep them as pets.
"Skunks are the primary wildlife species that are associated with carrying rabies," Miller explained.
Because of the danger of spreading rabies, "skunks and raccoons and other prohibitive animals have to be destroyed," she said.
Other "prohibitive species" have to be destroyed right away because they are not native species. Miller said if those animals are introduced into the area, they can destroy native habitat and native species.
Stinker was found as a baby in the middle of the road a year ago. Bell ended up with the critter after it was kicked out of two homes.
Although Bell was doing a favor for a friend who got stuck with the skunk, he knows now that the skunk should have been left on the side of the road.
"I was very impressed with the way (Miller) explained it to me and brought out a copy of the statute and highlighted what was pertinent," Bell said. "She did a wonderful job of dealing with the situation."
Miller and her supervisor decided to grant an exception to the law requiring that the skunk be destroyed.
"A special exemption was made to release it at the landfill since there are already skunks on the property," Miller said.
And since Bell wasn't the person who took the skunk out of the wild, Miller chose to give him just a warning.
However, Miller stressed that fines are normally assessed against people who try to keep wildlife. Law-breakers also can have points put against their hunting licenses.
Wildlife not on the "prohibitive species" list are dealt with differently. Those animals don't normally have to be destroyed.
For example, Miller said some people "rescue" fawns and elk calves when they shouldn't.
"In those type of circumstances, there's a perception that animals are abandoned or sick, when in fact the mother is usually nearby," Miller said. "If it's obviously injured or the mother is dead, they can contact the Division of Wildlife or sheriff's office."
As for Stinker, he has two weeks to adjust to the outdoors.
Bell is keeping the skunk away from humans and is leaving him outdoors during the daytime.
Next week, he plans to make him stay outside day and night but will leave Stinker's dog carrier outside as a "defensible" place, while the skunk adapts.
"My original goal was to introduce Stinker into the wild," Bell said. "I just thought I would have a little more time."
However, Bell is just happy that the friendly animal is getting a chance to live.
"I'm glad we got people like Miller in the Division of Wildlife who can see beyond the law."
"My feelings really would have been hurt if they had to come out and destroy him."
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