Dogs can make winter fatal for elk
EAGLE – Wildlife and domestic pets don’t mix, and when the two interact, it’s the large animals who are more likely to be harmed.This winter has provided Eagle residents with a great opportunity to view elk at close range as a herd of more than 400 has congregated in the lower Brush Creek Valley. But as the animals graze in the meadow next to the Eagle Ice Rink or near the creek in the Eagle Ranch open space, there’s an increased opportunity for dog and human harassment.”Even though the elk may not appear to be disturbed, that doesn’t mean you’re not having an effect on them,” said Craig Wescoatt of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “Even viewing them from a distance will have an effect on them.”
But an even more serious hazard for the elk is being chased or barked at by dogs, Wescoatt said. “Right now, the elk are just trying to make it through the winter on reserved stores of fat. Anytime we make them expend energy, we’re cutting down on their chances for survival,” Wescoatt said. Bothering elk this time of year also can have devastating consequences for their offspring. The female elk are pregnant now, about ready to go into the second trimester. The majority of calving will take place the first week in June.Harassing wildlife isn’t good for domestic animals either, and it can be deadly for dogs. Colorado state law allows anyone who observes a dog harassing wildlife to shoot the dog. While there are laws against shooting a firearm within town limits, the elk often straddle the town boundaries.With the elk herd wintering so close to town, Eagle County Animal Control has stepped up its patrols in Eagle Ranch and in the Orchards neighborhood.
“We have had complaints of dogs off leash near the herd. We want to try to prevent problems, not just react to problems,” said Natalie Duck, Eagle County Animal Services manager. Animal Services will be issuing citations for off-leash dogs, she said.Pet owners using the dog park need to be vigilant, Duck said, because the rules state animals must be “under control” at all times. A dog that is chasing an elk doesn’t fit that description. “If there are deer or elk present on or adjacent to the dog park, please do not let your dog off leash,” says Eagle Open Space Director Bill Heicher.A ticket for a first-time is $30. A citation for a dog that is observed harassing wildlife will net a fine and a court appearance.”It’s the owner’s responsibility to keep dogs from getting into a bad situation with wildlife,” says Duck. “The elk are out there for a short period of time. It’s one of the huge benefits of living in the mountains – you get to see wildlife.”
In addition to making sure their dogs don’t bother wildlife, area residents are urged to use good judgment in their human interactions with the elk. Stalking the animals with a camera can be harassment.”There is a lot less impact if you stay in your car,” says Wescoatt. “If you do step out, don’t silhouette yourself to take a photo”Wescoatt also stressed the importance of staying off closed trails. As the winter winds down, animals will be retreating to the hills to calve and to recover from the lean winter months. Humans and dogs can be particularly disturbing during this time.”We are just asking people to use good judgment. We want to respect the elk and protect them,” Duck said.