Our View: Wildlife encounters pose safety risk
July 16, 2013
The July 5 traffic jam inspired by a pair of young bull moose on Mount Werner Circle near The Steamboat Grand and the awareness this summer that at least one local bear cub has learned to open car doors suggests to us that it's time for a broader community discussion about how we perfect the art of living with wildlife.
A number of eager wildlife watchers on foot and bicycles came dangerously close and nearly cornered one of the agitated young moose that was trying to cross Mount Werner Circle on July 5.
Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins said Tuesday that when people approach within 8 to 10 feet of a moose, they no longer have any margin of safety.
"You really almost don't know it until it happens," Haskins said. "They can be bedded down, and they don't even act like they are scared or concerned. But when you cross that threshold, they can just pound you so quickly that there's nothing you can do."
That point was brought home emphatically during the first week in June when a Grand Lake woman was flown to a Denver hospital after suffering a head injury caused by a moose that became enraged when the woman's dog barked at it.
We would urge the resort lodging community to increase efforts to educate Steamboat's guests about the potential for injury that comes with getting close enough to moose to capture a good smartphone picture. They also can inform their guests that there is no need to call 911 simply because a bear is sighted walking down a street. Colorado Parks and Wildlife already has a brochure about living with bears. Adapting that handout to include moose safety and providing it to hotels and other lodging properties would be a start.
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Parks and Wildlife officers are spread thin, and Steamboat residents as well as resort employees can help visitors understand how to stay safe in the presence of bears and moose. We also think a series of community meetings, after the fall hunting season is over, would prove beneficial by allowing area residents to share their wildlife encounters with Parks and Wildlife officials and by providing information about how officers plan to manage those issues in the future.
Haskins said his staff stands ready to meet with neighborhood groups where bears and moose are becoming difficult to live with or even to mediate among neighbors who have different approaches to living with wildlife.
He added that he encourages visitors to Steamboat to stop to look at the bear in the tree or the moose in the willows but only from a safe distance.
"These are great teaching moments," Haskins said. "Most of the people who come here, that may be the first bear they've ever seen up close. It's all about getting the word out that they're still unpredictable, wild animals. If you really care about them and like seeing them, do it at a distance."
We're convinced that the estimated four to six female bears that have established winter dens either at the base of the ski mountain or within the city limits are the root of Steamboat's bear problems.
Haskins confirmed that about 75 percent of the city's bear problems can be traced to the cubs that grow up learning bad habits in the city limits.
Ultimately, discouraging those urban dens might be the long-term answer to Steamboat's problem bears.