Who’s invading? Us or the animals?
COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) – When Nick Pinell became a wildlife officer, the foothills of Colorado Springs were unpopulated, black bears didn’t live off people’s trash and The Briargate subdivision was still the kind of place where the deer and the antelope played.The year was 1967. Pinell has watched Colorado Springs grow, and he’s dealt with the human-wildlife clashes that accompanied the surge.On Feb. 28, 40 years to the day after joining the Colorado Division of Wildlife, he retired. He was the longest-serving Division of Wildlife employee in the state.
“It’s kind of like staying too long at the dance,” the 61-year-old said. “It’s time to open up and let some of the younger guys come in. Let them have some of the fun.”The biggest change is in the nature of the job. Where once officers focused primarily on enforcement of hunting laws, they now wage a daily struggle to strike a balance between wildlife and the burgeoning human population.”We encroached on certain animals, and certain animals decided somewhere along the line that the encroached area was their habitat and they weren’t going to move,” he said.Black-footed ferrets and bobcats have mostly vanished, but other critters have thrived. Foxes and coyotes roam city streets. Several generations of bears have taught their cubs to dine from trash cans. Residents of some neighborhoods regard deer the same way East Coast city dwellers regard rats.Pinell had his first call for a mountain lion under a porch in 1986. Now such calls are common.
While it’s partly because of the encroachment, he also sees a different attitude among many residents toward wildlife.”People don’t seem to tolerate some of those animals,” he said. “They want somebody to do something that doesn’t need to be done, like relocation.”Or, people like the animals too much and feed them, causing other problems.Attitudes among hunters, though, haven’t changed much. Pinell said that most obey game laws and cooperate readily with officers.Pinell hasn’t had much time for hunting over the past four decades, and said he may try to squeeze more in. But he might not do much shooting.
“It’s the thrill of the chase, not the thrill of the kill,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point where maybe I’d rather hunt with my camera.”There’s plenty he’ll miss, but he said he can look back with pride. His only regret is never getting the college degree all the younger officers have – most of whom are young enough to be his children.”I have enjoyed 40 years of asking myself, ‘I get paid for this?”‘ he said.