Feeding Eagle County wildlife is like setting up a buffet for mountain lions
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials remind local residents it's illegal to feed deer and elk
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s not only illegal, but it’s also unwise to put out food for deer and elk.
“You are basically setting up a buffet for mountain lions and creating a nuisance for your neighbors who don’t want the mountain lions around their kids and animals,” said Craig Wescoatt, the district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“December and January seem to be the peak times we have interactions between mountain lions and humans in residential areas,” Wescoatt continued. “Oftentimes when we go down to find out why the lions are there, they are on some kind of kill. Then we find out some of the neighbors are putting out food to attract deer and elk for their viewing or photography pleasure.”
People who feed wildlife usually have good intentions, Wescoatt said.
“But it has consequences that you may not think about and you may be impacting your family or your whole neighborhood,” he said. “We are just trying to get people to do the smart thing.”
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The rules are simple, Wescoatt noted. “It’s illegal to put hay, salt or mineral blocks out to attract wildlife,” he said.
Even bird feeders, which are legal and are beneficial to migrating and wintering birds, can set up mountain lion feeding areas. Bird feeders can attract raccoons and rabbits, Wescoatt explained.
“Basically a raccoon is a walking ice cream cone to a mountain lion,” he said. “They can get a lot of fat and calories from a raccoon without a lot of effort.”
Wescoatt said residents who want to feed birds should keep a sharp eye on their feeders to make sure other species don’t find them. If raccoons or rabbits start frequenting the feeder, it would be wise to take it down for the winter months.
Other than that, the best thing that humans can do to help wildlife weather the winter is to keep their distance.
“Give them as much tranquility as you can. Every time they move they are burning calories that they really can’t afford to lose to survive,” Wescoatt said.
Last year there were a high number of wildlife sightings in the county, particularly in the Edwards and Wolcott areas. Earlier this week a large mountain lion was spotted along U.S. Highway 24 between Gilman and Minturn.
“The Red Cliff area is becoming a more common area to see mountain lions,” Wescoatt said. “The lions have found the deer and elk in their natural feeing areas.”
Last year, a number of people in the Edwards area reported seeing a mountain lion pack. That wasn’t actually correct, Wescoatt said.
“Lions can hunt in family units and the young usually stay with their mother until they are a year old, so they can look like full-grown lions,” he said.
A home security camera at a Vail residence also recently captured a mountain lion leaving a porch when sensory lights flipped on.
Not every mountain lion sighting needs to be reported, but Wescoatt said Colorado Parks and Wildlife does want to hear about overly aggressive mountain lions or lions who seem to be seeking out people rather than avoiding them. To make a mountain lion report, call the CPW office in Glenwood Springs at 970-947-2920. To learn more about how to act when encountering a mountain lion, visit the CPW website.
Winter is always a tough time for deer and elk to find enough to eat but, to date, this hasn’t been an outstandingly harsh season. It’s been 12 years since Colorado Parks and Wildlife has had to organize a feeding program for Eagle County wildlife.
“There is a triggering mechanism that we have to assume at least 50% of the females in the group would die if we didn’t supplement and feed them,” Wescoatt said. “Plus you have to make the determination early enough to make a difference.”
“I would say the snowpack is slightly higher and the temperatures are slightly colder than normal,” he continued. “I think it’s going to be a fairly normal winter wildlife loss this year, unless something changes, of course.”