A year to see lions in Garfield County
DOW says increased sightings might be result of more people looking, not more cats
By John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado — Mountain lions have replaced black bears as the curious wildlife creatures pestering homeowners in Garfield County this year.
Fall 2007 was a busy year for Colorado Division of Wildlife officers in terms of bear and human conflicts, especially with homeowners up and down the Roaring Fork Valley.
DOW officials attributed a late frost that killed off much of the bear’s summer berry crops and other vegetation as reasons for the increase in conflicts. So, bears were looking for food wherever they could. Trash cans and Dumpsters were one of the likeliest places to attract a hungry bear.
However, this year’s berry crop appears to have been plentiful for bears in the area, because they have been relatively quite, and almost no conflicts between bears and humans have been reported to the DOW this year.
However, with the bears quietly preparing for hibernation, the mountain lions have been out and about causing concern for homeowners this year.
The reason could be very simple, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.
“It may just be the fact that we’ve got more people,” Hampton said. “When you have more people you have more opportunities and more eyes to see mountain lions.”
Hampton said that increasing populations on Colorado’s western slope have more people recreating than ever before. And that is the easiest answer for the increased sightings, he said.
“More people means that more people are going to see mountain lions,” Hampton said. “Not because there are more mountain lions, but it’s because there are more people.”
Four Mile resident Ron de Moraes spotted a mountain lion cub in his neighbor’s backyard Monday. The cub later came into his yard where Moraes’ dog ran it up a tree, according to Moraes.
“This is the first one we’ve seen,” Moraes said.
Moraes has been a full-time resident in the area since 1997, he said, without having ever seen a mountain lion before Monday. However, the clues were already there.
Through October, Moraes said that he’s seen deer bones scattered in areas of his property. He could only speculate that the remains were left by a hungry mountain lion.
“Our neighbor has seen a full-grown lion before,” Moraes said. “But we never have.”
Moraes called the DOW, and an officer was sent to the residence to assess the situation.
Hampton indicated that it’s not uncommon for lions to be more active during the fall and late winter, increasing the number of sightings.
“When the deer are moving, going through migration, the mountain lions are moving as well,” Hampton said.
As the deer and elk migrate to the winter range to escape the deeper snow in the high country, lions will follow because the deer and elk populations are a vital food source for the lions.
“They (lions) will come down for winter range, not because they need to escape the snow, but because they are going to go where their food is,” Hampton said.
Hampton indicated that a cub on its own like Moraes spotted in his yard, probably was left there while the mother lion was hunting for food.
“If there is a cub in an area for an extended time, there may be additional concerns,”
Hampton said. “Just seeing a cub for a while doesn’t mean that it’s abandoned.”
The DOW doesn’t have any evidence to support why there has been an increase in the number of sightings, Hampton said. He did say that they have received more calls regarding mountain lion sightings, encounters or potential incidents than in the past four to five years. But it was his opinion that it’s just a coincidence.
“It may just be purely coincidental. We have no reason to believe otherwise,” Hampton said. “With bears, we can draw some quick correlation between natural forage availability and bear encounters. With lions, not so much. It doesn’t seem to be anything we can isolate at this time.”
Hampton said that the DOW will track the number of incidents from year to year, to determine if in fact there is some reason that can explain the increase.
This recent sighting comes one month after Jan and Bruce Shugart spotted three mountain lions near their Four Mile home.
In August, the DOW shot and killed a 2-year-old male mountain lion on East Elk Creek Road north of New Castle, after the animal killed a horse and stashed the carcass for later feeding.
Another man shot and killed a mountain lion on Main Elk Creek Road, just west of East Elk Creek earlier in August, after the animal approached the man and his wife who were out walking in the evening.
Contact John Gardner: 384-9114
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org