Lions prowl near Glenwood Springs | AspenTimes.com

Lions prowl near Glenwood Springs

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Courtesy Bruce ShugartA trio of mountain lions hung out at the Shugart residence in the Four Mile Creek area near Glenwood Springs on Sunday. The Colorado Division of Wildlife says that it is highly unusual to see three lions of this size together.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The early morning sunshine revealed three mountain lions near Bruce and Jan Shugart’s Faranhyll Ranch home Sunday morning.

For Jan, the experience was more exhilarating than frightening, she confessed.

“Actually it was really cool,” Jan said. “They are gorgeous animals, and you could see their paws up close and their muscular bodies, it was fascinating.”

Bruce first discovered one of the mountain lions coming around the side of the house as he enjoyed the morning air from the deck of their home, located about three-and-a-half miles up Four Mile Road, outside of Glenwood Springs. He then went to get Jan so she could see the feline for herself. But upon their return there were two more mountain lions going through their garden. At one point the lions were within about 10 feet of their patio door looking right into their dinning room, Jan said.

“They were meandering around the house, just lollygagging, not in a hurry at all,” Jan explained. “They just kind of hung out in the yard for a while.”

Jan and Bruce snapped some photos with a cell phone camera and later with another digital camera.

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Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said the Shugarts handled the situation well.

“Seeing (a mountain lion) passing across your land when you are in a rural area is something, if you are in a house, enjoy the opportunity because it’s not often when people get to see mountain lions in the wild,” Hampton said.

This year, however, Garfield County residents have seen their share of mountain lions. The DOW shot and killed a 2-year-old male lion on East Elk Creek Road north of New Castle on Aug. 28, after the animal killed a horse and stashed the carcass for later feeding. Another man shot and killed a mountain lion on Main Elk Creek Road, just west of East Elk Creek on Aug. 5, after the animal approached the man and his wife as they were out walking in the evening.

In July 2007, a colt was attacked by a mountain lion near Silt, though it recovered from its injuries. Several other incidents involving mountain lions in the county have occurred over the years, according to Hampton, but there’s definitely been an increase this year.

“It’s been a fairly active summer for mountain lions,” Hampton said. “We’ve probably had 15 or more calls about mountain lions this year over previous years.”

However, the weekend sighting involved no report of incident or injury to any other animal or person. Jan said she notified all of her neighbors about the lions and cautioned them to keep their pets inside. She also said that, Sunday evening, one of her neighbors told her that they, too, saw a mountain lion in their driveway, but were unsure if it was one of the three that the Shugarts had spied earlier that morning.

There is no particular reason for the increased sightings and incidents, according to Hampton, other than population and increased urban sprawl.

“There have been more instances this year than I’ve seen, but there is nothing that causes it as with bears,” Hampton said. “Like last year, we had forage failures with the bears and we definitely had a very strong bear activity. This year we’re just seeing more mountain lions. There is nothing to tie it to directly, there is just more people and when there are more people out there you are going to see more lions.”

Seeing three lions together is rare, though, Hampton added.

“If there is more than one in a certain location, it’s generally a mother and a cub or two,” Hampton said.

What frightened Jan about the lions near her home was that they retreated from the house on a hiking trail that she and Bruce frequent. In fact, Bruce had been out the prior evening hiking in the same area.

Hampton advised against hiking in the evening or early morning ” times when mountain lion incidents most often occur. It’s a good idea to bring in the pets during those times, as well, he said.

Anyone who encounters a lion should not try to approach the animal, but head in another direction. One should back away slowly and make themselves appear as large as possible, Hampton said.

“You don’t want to turn and run,” Hampton said. “That will trigger their attack instinct, and they will chase you. Just back away slowly.”

If the animal does approach, Hampton advocated throwing rocks, sticks or whatever is available at the animal without crouching down or appearing smaller to the lion.

According to Hampton, game management unit 33 for hunting ” encompassing the area north of New Castle, Silt and Rifle ” has the second-highest mountain lion harvest for the state. In 2006, 18 mountain lions were taken in unit 33 alone. The highest area is just north of unit 33, unit 23, with 19 lions harvested in 2006. Only two mountain lions, both males, were taken in unit 43, west of Glenwood Springs. Unit 43 includes the area surrounding the Shugarts’ home.

jgardner@postindependent.com

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