Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Have you begun, like I have, to wonder if the wild animals of the Yampa Valley are conspiring to reclaim Steamboat Springs?
I had mixed emotions Sunday morning about rescuing two juvenile raccoons from my Dumpster. After all, they were certain to return. And they want what they want.
Then on Monday morning, I read that humans can contract ringworms from raccoon waste and I knew I had to do more to discourage my little masked invaders. Sorry Rocky, you’re an unwanted houseguest.
If it isn’t bears in this town, it’s raccoons acting as if Dumpsters are luxury condos with a meal plan. Or even more concerning was the bear that hopped into the rear hatch of a Steamboat resident’s car Monday morning while the groceries were being unloaded. I guess if I had to, I’d choose raccoons in my Dumpster over a bear in my 4Runner.
From the biggest animal — moose — right down to some of the smallest backpack-eating chipmunks, wild critters have begun to assert themselves around here.
I’ve been extra careful the past four weeks to keep my garage door closed. This is the time of year when a chipmunk has previously taken up residence in my heated garage. It's happened to me twice in the past three years.
How bad could that be?
The first cute rodent chewed a gaping hole in the top lid of a daypack in order to get at a granola bar. The second became so desperate for food that it chewed up a window screen.
As for those two juvenile raccoons that were huddled in my Dumpster the other morning? In reality, I rescued them from a prison they could not have escaped for at least another week when the Dumpster will begin to fill.
The raccoons can climb into the trash enclosure with ease. But once they squeeze through the gap between the lids of the Dumpster, they have no chance of climbing back out its smooth, steel interior.
I could have left them there to gorge on chicken bones and tortilla scraps until the garbage truck hoisted them into the sky and deposited them in its cargo hold. But I didn’t.
When a neighbor brought my attention to the plight of the juvenile raccoons, I grabbed a 6-foot-long piece of scrap wood. I lowered it into the Dumpster, leaning the upper end against its side to create a ramp.
Next, I plan to redouble my efforts to dissuade animals from snacking on my neighborhood’s garbage and sprinkle more ammonia inside and outside the Dumpster. I’ll even resort to using synthetic coyote pee if I have to (read on). But I won’t repeat what I did Sunday, which was to spritz one of the departing raccoons on the rump with ammonia.
When I wrote a column last month about the bear who is able to break into our bear-proof Dumpster, several readers, including a Colorado Divisions of Parks and Wildlife employee, responded by recommending that I keep a spray bottle of ammonia handy to coat both the Dumpster and the trash inside. I’ve taken that advice.
Of course, ammonia is prevalent in animal urine, and a company called Shake-Away is marketing a product that consists of coyote urine granules that it touts as being a strong repellant to raccoons. Raccoons identify the coyote scent in the predators’ urine, according to the manufacturers, and a good whiff of it is enough to cause them to beat feet in fear of being eaten.
I’m at a loss to explain the unusual numbers of wild animals occupying Steamboat Springs the past few years. But it’s not too farfetched to suppose that the record snowpack of spring 2011 followed by the extreme drought of 2012 has impacted their natural range to an extent that they are doing what they have to do to survive.
Just stay out of my Dumpster, would ya?
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com