For the week of November 25 thru December 1, 1998  

Where rugged dreams meet nature’s realities

A newly formed group spearheads efforts to achieve comfortable coexistance with wildlife

Express Staff Writer

n25crit1.jpg (4832 bytes)A cow moose works her way down a mountainside fresh with snow. As she weaves among the Blaine County’s mountain fauna, her hooves leave large, intimidating tracks, tracks unlike any other. They are deep, massive, unafraid.

Food in the mountains has become scarce. The grasses are matted beneath snow. Bushes are buried beneath drifts. Hunger grips her belly.

As she plods around a pine, a pleasant scent greets her keen olfactory nerves. She walks, cautiously at first, toward an Oriental maple that decorates the side of a home on the valley floor. She stretches her great neck. She bares her great teeth. She eats heartily.

And she will return, this largest of all North American land mammals. She has found a winter food source. The potentially dangerous moose has found your back yard.

As the Wood River Valley continues to grow, encounters with wildlife become inevitable, and outcomes are not always beneficial.

For instance, in the Hulen Meadows neighborhood just two years ago a woman was knocked over by a moose that was chasing her dog.

The encounters are certainly not limited to those involving moose. According to Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer Lee Frost, bear, elk, deer, coyotes, red fox and mountain lions have all been sighted in Wood River Valley residential areas. All species have interacted with man and his non-native, imported habitat.

"Co-inhabitance is absolutely achievable, but we have to be willing to do some things; humans are on the flexible end of the spectrum." Lee Frost, F&G conservation officer

 A local group has been formed to help residents and visitors learn the necessary precautions to avoid unfavorable interaction with the animals and how to put such forethought into action.

The still unnamed group has tapped Frost’s expertise and includes 16 local residents. Group member Paula Caputo said the group’s information is particularly aimed at people who do not have experiences living with or near wild animals.

"We need to co-inhabit," she said. "We have all of these animals running around, and we are taking up more and more of their habitat."

n25crit8.jpg (11055 bytes)The group’s formation was catalyzed by the well-publicized separation of a black bear sow and her cub over Labor Day weekend.

Caputo said she was at first enraged by the forced abandonment of the yearling cub, but after getting a group of concerned citizens together and listening to a presentation by Frost, she and the others realized that the cub should be able to do well on its own.

However, she said, problematic issues were raised at the meeting.

Frost pointed out that the bear’s transfer could have been avoided, but due to pressure from several Warm Springs homeowners associations that refused to purchase wildlife-proof Dumpsters, he eventually went through with the procedure.

Frost also pointed out that many other species share the Wood River Valley with humans, particularly during winter months. All or most negative interactions between wildlife and humans are avoidable, he said.

"Co-inhabitance is absolutely achievable, but we have to be willing to do some things," Frost said. "Humans are on the flexible end of the spectrum. There has to be more give on the human side than on the wild side."

Frost, Caputo and the rest of their group are attempting to spread the following information and advice:

 The last of the black bears should currently be entering hibernation, but there are certain measures that should be taken during spring, summer and fall, when they are looking for food.

 The bear is easily habituated and will, once it finds easy access to food, return year after year. Black bears are essentially non-aggressive to humans but will protect their cubs and food.

 Their diet is 99 percent vegetarian and the main attraction for them in residential areas is trash, pet food and bird seed from feeders. If those three things are made inaccessible to the bear, Frost said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the bear won’t come, but it does lessen the likelihood of a problem. Currently, three to five black bear return to the west Ketchum and Warm Springs areas annually.

The local moose population is growing and confrontations with humans will become more frequent and more serious, said Frost.

"We will have somebody killed or seriously injured by a moose in this valley," he said.

An estimated 70 to 75 moose currently call the Big Wood River drainage home.

Frost offered the following advice when being introduced to a moose: Do not confront a moose. Back away slowly. void eye contact if possible, and take shelter behind a large tree.

Moose weigh between 850 and 1,100 pounds, kill or attack with their feet and particularly hate dogs.

"The presence of a dog can increase the likelihood of a moose charge by a factor of 10," said Frost.

Above all, they are unpredictable. The Idaho Fish and Game’s moose alert flyer concludes, "Moose are basically a ‘furry locomotive with an attitude."

Frost feels that the most likely candidates for moose attacks are cross-country skiers, mountain bikers and trail runners. Decorative and expensive landscaping also attract the animals for winter forage.

Elk and deer do not pose a direct threat to humans, but they will destroy landscape trees and shrubs for forage. Elk and deer also become easily habituated.

"Feeding them is absolutely the worst thing you can do," said Frost of some local residents’ efforts to help the animals during winter with offerings of hay.

During certain winters, elk populations in the valley have been extremely high. For the 1996-97 winter, Frost said, 12,000 elk abandoned their summer range and wintered in the Big Wood River Valley.

The local red fox population is exceptionally high, Frost said. And problems with foxes stem from people’s desires to feed them. Many of the foxes are what Frost calls "an urban population." Many live inside the city limits.

Foxes, mountain lions and coyotes will pursue domesticated pets for food.

Mountain lions are basically loners that are afraid of humans. They do live in the area, but will generally stay away from populated places unless prompted by easily accessible food.

Coexistence with wildlife is achievable, say members of the new group, but humans have to give.

"Part of what attracts people here are the natural resources," Frost said. "If you can’t coexist with these resources (the wildlife), you shouldn’t live here."


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