Editor’s note: This story was originally published in Move To Steamboat and Yampa Valley Magazine published December 23, 2022.
Many people who visit or move to the Steamboat Springs area may not realize that their new home is a natural haven for the wide variety of wildlife that have become their new neighbors.
Black bears grab many of the headlines, but Yampa Valley is also home to moose, elk, deer, fox, coyotes, mountain lions, prairie boas, bald eagles, great mound cranes, grouse, grouse, raccoons, skunks and more.
“We are surrounded by good wildlife habitat. Steamboat City is located in a valley, so we really get close to their habitat and often grow there,” said Lexi Stein, director of adult programs for Yampatika, an environmental education nonprofit.
Steamboat and much of Root County are surrounded by national forests and that proximity means more wildlife nearby. In addition, the diverse habitat across the Yampa Valley ranging from mountainous bush to riverside to forest areas ensures a good home for a variety of animals.
“There’s a little bit of everything to a lot of wildlife,” Stein said. “People are more interested in learning what to do when they encounter these animals.”
This means that newcomers must educate themselves on how best to interact and live safely with wildlife, from securing bear-proof litter boxes to keeping dogs on a leash.
Educators at Yampatika and Colorado Parks and Wildlife shared seven key recommendations, while advising that specific animals have different sharing rules for learning. Experts encourage people to pick up the pamphlets, sign up for an educational walk with a Yampatika naturalist or check out the CPW website for tips and short videos.
Rote County is a good bear habitat, and the proximity to natural lands combined with bad human habits attract some bears to live within the city limits as well. Be prepared to have windows and doors on the first floor locked and locked, locking in vehicles (yes, bears are smart enough to open some car doors) and sealing spaces under porches and floors for bears and other animals, which may be considered an attractive den. Secure litter and animal food inside an enclosed garage or sturdy shed, and avoid hanging bird feeders and fruit picks from above and below trees.
“If you’re not smart about food sources, animals will feel comfortable on your property,” warned Bubenheim.
If residents see a bear, enjoy the site very briefly, then make the bears very uncomfortable by honking horns or making loud noises from banging pots to using air horns. Learn more through http://www.SteamboatSprings.net/bears.
Mind the moose
In the past 20 years, the population of the Root County in the Cheras has increased sevenfold to an estimated 350 animals, including an estimated 30 moose that live on national forest lands at Steamboat Resort, according to CPW terrestrial biologist Eric Vanata.
Give large long-legged moose plenty of space and make sure to leave the animals a clear escape route. Keep all dogs on a leash. Dogs seem like natural predators to moose, so when a dog approaches a moose to check it out and decides to return to its owner, the moose may follow.
“The most important thing to remember is that you can encounter wildlife at any time,” said Stein. “Keeping dogs on a leash is a really good way to make sure you don’t unintentionally disturb or harass wildlife.”
Stay alert on the trails
On trails or in open spaces, residents may encounter various types of wild animals and must remain aware of surroundings and noise making. Do not walk or ride a bike with the ear pads on. Some people choose to hike with a can of bear spray easily accessible in a side pocket, but learning proper spray use is key first.
“You don’t have to be afraid to recreate, but you do have to educate yourself about potential encounters with some of our many wildlife species,” said Libby Miller, a CPW wildlife biologist for 26 years.
Let the children be
Spring can be the perfect time to meet young wildlife. Don’t capture or “rescue” those cute little “orphan” animals. The mother is usually nearby and hides her young while she forages, or a young bird may perch outside the nest while it learns to fly, according to the CPW.
“What humans might misinterpret as ‘abandonment’ are actually wild animals living healthy wild lives,” according to the CPW.
Mind the signs
Some popular recreation areas and trails close from December 1 to April 15 to protect the elk’s winter habitat and again during spring calving seasons from May 15 to June 15. Respect all closing tags.
“There are cases of elk closures because the elk are so stressed during the winter and are on a starving diet,” Stein said. “They expend a lot of energy staying warm and moving through deep snow. Humans are usually seen as predators. If an elk scares us in the winter, they run away and burn very valuable energy and may be less likely to make it to the spring.”
Learn more through cpw.state.co.us/learn/pages/livingwithwildlife.aspx.
Uses More caution while driving Local roads, especially at dawn and dusk, to avoid running into wildlife. Encounters with wildlife are very common due to the travel patterns and migration corridors that cross highways and county roads. Slow down, stay alert, look out for roadside movement ahead and be prepared for animals traveling in packs.
A critical time to be careful is during the November change to daylight saving time when more people are driving home in the dark and animals can migrate from higher to lower elevations.
Don’t forget, the people of Root County love their dogs, and many owners think their dogs are great with instant recall. But this is rarely true when a dog smells wildlife. Steamboat is home to several parks that are off-leash for the use of dogs, with more information available at http://www.SteamboatDigsDogs.com.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.