Problem animals a human problem |

Problem animals a human problem

Chamois L. Andersen

People have always been drawn to the wilderness ” to fish, to hike, to view wildlife. While the chances of seeing a bear or lion are rare, many nature lovers like me enjoy knowing these predators exist, and are doing their part to keep nature in balance.

As a wildlife communicator, I have spent much of my career contemplating wildlife and its wild ways. I have learned that we play a vital role in its existence. But our wildlife species are changing ” largely because of people. Those changes have profound implications for all of us.

For people trying to understand those changes, Snowmass will be an important place during the coming week because it will host the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ annual conference. I will be there along with more than 600 communicators, scientists and decision makers from around the nation, hoping to learn more.

As we look out on the landscape where bears and lions make their home, the wilderness appears so vast it’s hard to believe we could alter its inhabitants. But, we are. As we move closer into the wilderness, fail to use bear proof trash containers and allow our pets to roam, wildlife is becoming habituated to us. We grossly underestimate the power we have to drive change ” both good and bad ” in our natural world.

Today, wildlife conflicts occur at an alarming rate. We affect nature by destroying the animals that we turn into problem cases. We call them “problem animals” because it is not their normal behavior to get so close to humans and cause problems.

Do we want to do away with them like the Eastern Puma, which was decimated by the effects of human encroachment? Most experts agree: It’s the human environment we’re creating that cannot support wildlife. Thus, we’re forced to kill aggressive animals.

Statistically, people are safe from bears, lions and other predatory animals. In fact, many experts say you have a greater chance of being struck by lighting than of being attacked.

The problem is that while predators are accustomed to roaming great distances and fairing quite well on natural food, development across the West has forced these animals into isolated habitats ” limiting their territory and pushing them closer to people. Wildlife attacks on humans are exceedingly rare but have increased in recent decades. When they occur, how do we handle them? Attendees of the wildlife conference will seek to answer this question and to learn from other states about how to deal with wildlife conflicts.

One thing is certain: Our respect for wildlife is connected intimately to the health of these species and the natural systems that sustain us and them. It is obvious to any citizen of Colorful Colorado that healthy wildlife populations not only play a role in our tourism economy, but also are an integral part of our understanding of nature.

I have no question about what will come if we don’t change our ways. If we continue to destroy these animals and the habitats they depend on, we will further weaken nature’s ability to remain sustainable.

If we are capable of making such profound changes to our environment, we can also change our behavior ” and keep wildlife wild.

Chamois Andersen is a communications consultant and former information officer for the California Dept. of Fish and Game and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. She will be moderating a wildlife conflicts media panel at the Sept. 17-22 Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ annual conference in Snowmass.

Editor’s note: The dotComments column, normally published on Sundays, will return next week.

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