Found turtles and moose sightings: Snowmass police chief sees shift in town’s animal dynamics
Wildlife encounters more common than lost pets these days
It wasn’t exactly a high-speed chase that brought a turtle into the Snowmass Village Police Department earlier this month (despite what the cheeky police department Facebook post might have had some believe).
The reptile — believed to be a lost pet because of some paint marks on its back — was turned into the department in mid-July by someone who spotted it in the Melton Ranch subdivision, said police chief Brian Olson. Without a corresponding “lost turtle report,” the department kept it over the weekend and fed it some lettuce before releasing it into the pond at Town Park, Olson said.
It’s not the first time Olson has seen something green and scaly come into police custody, he said. A boa constrictor that turned up in an apartment back in the 1980s, presumably left behind by the previous tenants, was the last amphibian in recent memory.
But loose pets of any variety (even the four-legged and furry kind) just aren’t that common anymore, Olson said; throughout nearly three decades in the village, the police department’s animal response has shifted its focus from strays to wildlife.
“Over my 30 years, I’ve watched that morph,” Olson said “When I started back in the late ’80s, we actually had specific animal control with a full-on animal control vehicle that had the cages, fiberglass cages and stuff in the back. It seemed like we chased down lost dogs on a regular basis.”
So regular, in fact, that for some time police suspected people were abandoning dogs in Snowmass Village. Not so these days, nor for the past 20-odd years.
“I think somewhere in the early ’90s, things started to change with bears, bears became more prolific in the village,” Olson said. “And then that just — that job (as an animal officer) has morphed. I would say it’s 80% wildlife, and (20%) domestic animals. I mean, it’s really made a change.”
It’s not just that most pets in the village are sticking close to home, Olson said. Expansion of the town’s wide-reaching trail network in recent years puts more people and pets in spaces previously occupied almost exclusively by bears, elk and deer.
“As we expand into animals’ domain with our recreational trail systems, that certainly expanded over the last 30 years, and we just either are pushing those animals down into our kind of urban setting, or we’re just coming in contact with them out in those recreational areas,” Olson said. “And it just creates conflict from time to time but just at least interaction to where we have to pay attention (to) how we how we manage those animals and people interactions.”
There haven’t been many human-wildlife conflicts this summer, Olson said, with “a bit of bear activity but not a ton,” though there have certainly been sightings — and not just of lost turtles or bears rummaging through trash: A moose was spotted passing through on the Snowmass Club golf course in mid-July.
Minimizing conflicts relies in part on the personal responsibility of trail users to keep dogs leashed when out on the village’s network, especially as the town’s dog population increases and the town’s people population uses the trails more often. Dogs are required to be leashed on all town-managed trails that permit canines.
Animal service officers Tina White and Lauren Martenson, who work for the police department, spend some time out on the trails in an effort to keep folks following the rules, but they and other trail staffers can’t cover all territory at all times.
“I think there are more dogs in the village; I think that number continues to increase. More people are finding comfort with those pets,” Olson said. “However, they’re generally doing a great job of managing the dogs, and they do not need our intervention except out on the trails where, again, you see other dogs, wildlife and multi-users. The trails are just begging for more and more of our attention.”
And while the turtle roaming free in Melton Ranch wasn’t likely to cause a conflict with a large bruin or herd of elk, those who want to keep their reptiles from wandering might want to keep an eye on them, too.
Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.
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