Colorado wildlife experts say this year's big snows have increased the chances of meeting wild animals on packed trails, and warned that dogs need to be on a leash to prevent potential conflicts.
"More animals will begin traveling on groomed trails, increasing the possibility of close encounters," said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras. "Watching wildlife in a responsible manner can lead to an exciting and memorable experience; however, approaching, harassing or feeding wild animals, or allowing your dogs to chase them, can lead to significant, negative consequences for you, your dog and the animals."
These tips that can help prevent a serious conflict with wildlife.
1. Watch wildlife from a distance
Most elk, deer and other wild animals will run away from people and dogs, but moose will hold their ground and cannot be 'shooed' away. Because they will charge if threatened, always give moose a wide berth. In addition, big game animals are struggling to survive during wintertime. Any unnecessary activity can lead to burning crucial fat stores at a time when forage is scarce. This can lead to an increase in mortality from starvation, including the deaths of unborn calves and fawns. Watch them from a distance with binoculars, a camera lens or a spotting scope.
2. Be an ethical snowmobiler, Snowmobiling is a popular and fun way to enjoy the backcountry; however, in addition to a flurry of reports received by local wildlife officials, several clips posted on video sharing websites showing snowmobilers encountering moose along snow-packed trails has prompted concern and warnings from officials to keep away from the large animals.
Here is one example of what can happen when snowmobilers get too close to moose on a the trail (Video).
During the weekend of Feb. 23, area wildlife officers received a report of a severely injured moose calf lying on a snowmobile trail. The calf had two broken front legs and officers suspect that it might have been struck by a snowmobile. Due to the extent of the injuries, the calf had to be killed by officers to end it’s suffering.
In addition to the possibility of being injured by an angry moose, anyone that chases wildlife on a snowmobile will be fined. If you encounter a wild animal while snowmobiling, stop immediately, keep your distance and let the animals move away on their own. If it's a moose you see on the trail, remember that they do not fear humans and cannot be forced to move along. Wait for it to wander off or seek an alternate route.
3. Keep dogs on a short leash or keep them at home
CPW officials say that dogs are often the common factor in wildlife related conflicts, with moose being a primary concern. Dogs off-leash will typically approach the large animals, causing the threatened moose to charge and injure not only the dog, but the dog's owner as well. Because of the serious injuries and stress dogs can cause, Colorado peace officers are authorized to use whatever force is necessary to stop them from harassing, injuring or killing any wild animal. Avoid being responsible for the death of a wild animal
If you act irresponsibly and are injured by a wild animal, keep in mind that officials often make the difficult decision to destroy an animal that has injured a person, regardless of the circumstances. Acting in a way that leads to the death of an animal that was only defending itself or its young from you or your dog can lead to significant remorse, harsh backlash from the public and a day in court.
4. Remind your friends and neighbors
Try to have helpful discussions with people you know about being responsible around wildlife. Advice from a trusted friend or family member is often the most effective way to educate the public about the do's and don'ts of recreating responsibly in areas where encounters with wild animals are likely.
5. Report unethical and illegal activity to officials immediately
Colorado Parks and Wildlife relies on the public's help. If you see wildlife being injured by dogs or harassed by any means, contact your nearest Colorado Parks and Wildlife office, Colorado State Patrol or. if you prefer to remain anonymous, call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. A reward may be offered if the report leads to a citation.