Sign of a mountain lion in Aspen |

Sign of a mountain lion in Aspen

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
A sign warning of mountain lions is posted on the Rio Grande Trail near the Slaughterhouse Bridge, on the outskirts of Aspen. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” Wildlife and trails officials, reacting to indications that a mountain lion is hunting in the Aspen area, have erected at least one sign warning hikers to be careful with their children and pets.

The sign, provided by the Colorado Division of Wildlife was posted near the Rio Grande Trail, a short distance east of where the trail crosses under the Slaughterhouse Bridge at the junction of McLain Flats Road and Cemetery Lane.

Austin Weiss, trails coordinator for the city of Aspen, said that in the wake of concerns from residents and a rising number of carcasses appearing along the trail, he called in Kevin Wright, the DOW’s district wildlife manager for the Aspen area.

Wright surveyed the area Saturday, walking along the trail near the White Horse Springs waterfall, and came to the conclusion that a mountain lion indeed might have been scavenging on the carcasses of elk and deer in the area, Weiss reported.

“He suspected that we have a lion running around.” Weiss said. “But it’s good news that they seem to be feeding on what they’re supposed to be feeding on,” meaning the carcasses rather than freshly killed animals.

“People just need to be aware that there could be a cat working the area,” agreed Wright, noting that the lions range over a wide area and that if the cat does spend time near Aspen it is very likely that it is not much time.

Wright said that the incidents of big-game animals dying along the trail, and elsewhere, is largely because of the fact “it is a harsh winter right now.”

Weiss emphasized that there has yet to be an actual sighting of a lion or any incontrovertible evidence that one is active in the area.

The sign essentially warns trail users of the possible presence of a large predator in the area and to keep children close by while walking on the trail as well as to keep pets on a leash.

In general, though, Weiss and Wright agreed that Aspen is situated in prime mountain lion habitat, and there most likely are mountain lions in the area at all times.

Wildlife experts recently told The Aspen Times that mountain lion populations around parts of the Western Slope have been increasing slowly during the past couple of decades, as ranching and other traditionally rural ways of life have given way to increasing urbanization. In the past, ranchers and others have hunted mountain lions to prevent them from raiding flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, the experts say. Lacking that pressure, the big cats have been reoccupying their historic range.

Plus, said Wright, “We’re moving into their habitat,” as more and more homes are built in remote locations. “We’re going to place ourselves in conflict with them more and more.”

As a result, Weiss said, “Everyone should have their mountain lion ears on all the time. They’re out there, regardless of whether we have evidence or not.”