Mountain lions making residents ‘nervous’ in Red Cliff
RED CLIFF — So far this winter, residents of Red Cliff have witnessed two dogs killed by mountain lions within town limits, and other dogs have gone missing.
“Just the last couple of years, we’ve spotted them,” said Barb Smith, administrator and clerk for the town of Red Cliff, “but they’ve come into our town a lot this year.”
Mountain lions have been seen roaming the streets, in the middle of roads and on town property in Red Cliff this year, and, on Thursday, one came into a resident’s yard and killed a dog, she said. It was seen walking away with the dog in its jaws, and that’s when a resident shot and killed the animal.
Later Thursday evening, another “pretty large” mountain lion was seen on the hillside on town property, Smith said. Eagle County Sheriff’s Office deputies were on scene and kept a spotlight on the cat for a couple of hours.
“Sometimes, the problem’s more for the people than the lion,” said Bill Andree, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer. “It’s not just this year; the mountain lion population has been increasing over the last several years in Eagle County.”
In addition to the reported sightings, there have been human interactions with mountain lions across the county this winter.
One was hit before Christmas by a driver on U.S. Highway 24 between Minturn and Red Cliff; another one was hit on Interstate 70 near Dowd Junction before Christmas; and one emaciated mountain lion was put down in Eagle, according to Andree.
Additionally, a starving mountain lion was recently put down in Gunnison, and two were killed in Grand Junction and Steamboat Springs that were hanging out in subdivisions eating dogs, he said.
There are many factors involved as to why it seems there are more mountain lion sightings in the past few years. Some of it has to do with the animals themselves, as well as subdivisions providing a great place for them to find food, he said.
“They’re an opportunistic feeder,” he said. “Raccoons, dogs, cats, rabbits — anything they can catch, they’re willing to eat.”
Public safety is of major concern with mountain lions entering town limits.
“We don’t want people hunting them,” Smith said. “We don’t want people firing guns into someone else’s house.”
In Thursday’s case, “the lion had killed a dog, and they had already called one of our officers and were told to shoot the lion,” Andree said. “It’s a matter that you have to be able to articulate that you’re killing that lion for human-safety reasons. If your bullet goes through the animal and causes damage somewhere else, then you’re totally on the hook for it.”
If you see a mountain lion, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office reminds the public:
• Do not approach a mountain lion, especially when it’s feeding or with kittens.
• Maintain visual contact, so you can always see what it is doing.
• Stay calm and make eye contact, so that it knows you have seen it.
• Stop or back away slowly. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
• Do all you can to appear larger.
• If you are with a small child, pick them up and tell them to be quiet — their high voice may sound like prey to a mountain lion.
• If a mountain lion behaves aggressively, then throw stones or whatever you can without crouching down or turning your back. Make loud noises and convince it that you are not prey.
• Fight back if a mountain lion attacks you as they have been driven away by prey that fights back. Remain standing, or, if you get knocked down, then try to get back up.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife is responsible for managing, conserving and protecting wildlife. Learn more about mountain lions at cpw.state.co.us.
Another dog that some Red Cliff residents saw killed by a mountain lion this winter in Red Cliff was taken off a porch, Smith said.
“We’ve had cat sightings in the last few years, but we’re more worried now. People have seen it,” she said. “Because of that, people are very nervous in town. … It’s kind of a valley-wide problem.”
Kaleta Johnson, co-owner of Mango’s Mountain Grill, said emotions of Red Cliff residents run the gamut from those that are frightened to those taking a “vigilante” approach to those that say the mountain lions were here first, so deal with it.
“I think most everybody is on high alert,” Johnson said.
Mountain lions only exist in the Western Hemisphere and are one of North America’s biggest cats, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“It’s part of living in Colorado,” Andree said.
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