Opinion | Tony Jones: The realities of the wildland-urban interface

A recent letter to the editor in the Summit Daily News, referencing an article on a spate of mountain lion attacks in the Nederland area, has brought the dangers of living in the wildland-urban interface back to the forefront of conversation for Coloradans. The letter writer decried what he perceived as Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s misplaced priorities in addressing attacks on homeowners’ pets in the area. I agree there’s an issue that needs addressing here and that human life and safety need to take precedent over wildlife concerns. Residents need to have the freedom to legitimately protect themselves and their loved ones, including pets, from predation on their property without fear of legal repercussions.

Considering the big picture, however, is the underlying issue truly about aggressive predators, animals that are simply doing what nature has bred into them? Or even the law that prohibits protecting one’s pet from predation? Instead, perhaps, the problem is that wildlife in the wildland-urban interface in Colorado has become too habituated to the presence of humans; they’re not as afraid of us as they once were. The underlying cause of this habituation is human overpopulation of the interface.

There is an excellent book that addresses this issue specific to Colorado, “The Beast in the Garden.” The book examines how wildlife, including prey species, are becoming habituated to human populations, particularly in areas like Boulder and our mountain communities. Wildlife have become less fearful of us and our living spaces and where prey goes, predators follow. Inevitably, the results are tragic, as this book so poignantly demonstrates and these Boulder County residents are learning.

But I must admit I struggle with the premise that the answer to the problem is being more aggressive in managing these creatures, despite my opening to this column. Be it bears, mountain lions or wolves, these creatures are victims of human encroachment on their habitats, and this has led to humans becoming part of wilderness ecosystems. These animals are simply adapting to changing conditions and one must wonder if hunger, and acting on hunger, on the part of the predator should be grounds for extermination. And as the article pointed out, this particular outbreak of attacks may have other underlying and exacerbating causes, including recent snow conditions and increased human activity due to construction in the area. It seems unfair that termination is the answer to a mountain lion’s response to unfavorable snow conditions and manmade commotion in their ecosystem.

The truth of the matter is that there are perils in living in the wildland-urban interface, perils that folks who do so must accept and adapt themselves to. And these perils will only get worse as our population and the interface continue to expand, wildlife habitat continues to shrink, and new apex predators reclaim our state for hunting grounds. The obvious must be stated here: An adaptation that those of us who live in the wildland-urban interface and who are concerned for our safety can make is to move away from that area. The predators were there first and there’s a kind of justice in leaving the wilderness to wild animals, versus eradicating wildlife to accommodate our own decisions.

In the end though, as a person who leans pragmatic and long ago recognized that our beloved wilderness is doomed due to human populations and tendencies, I know that the depopulation of humans in wild-lands is a nonstarter. As such, it seems the only answer lies in amending the law. Persons concerned with this issue should lobby the legislature to change the law that undermines their ability to protect their pets in this situation. Our Democrat-dominated legislature may need to stray from one of the party’s core tenants, wilderness preservation, and side with constituents on this one.

In the meantime, if you’re a homeowner in areas where mountain lions are active, it would be wise to keep a gun handy. Certainly, take the precautions that the Parks and Wildlife suggests. But as mountain lions become ever more brazen in preying on pets and exploring deeper into Colorado neighborhoods, it’s only a matter of time before fatal human interactions with them become more frequent. It’s a situation wherein, sadly, pets and livestock could be the gateway prey that leads to increased predation on humans as predators come to perceive human habitats as sources of food. As demonstrated in the article, better to be safe and ask for forgiveness later than risk the alternative.

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