Wildlife trapped in the crosshairs of growth and development
January 30, 2016
Park City’s animal kingdom has some vocal advocates but they are facing an uphill battle. As residential development and new roads continue to spread across the landscape, local wildlife habitat is shrinking and traditional migration routes are being disrupted.
That is why Utah Wildlife Resource officers are getting more calls for help — and more complaints when they do.
This winter seems to have been especially difficult — perhaps because of the abundance of snow — but more likely, because of the ongoing uptick in residential development and the traffic that goes with it.
Many residents are still upset that, earlier this month, the Division of Wildlife Resources killed a marauding mountain lion in Summit Park. Even though the animal killed a family’s dog, its life should have been spared, they say, citing a similar case in Wasatch County in which the offending cat was relocated.
This week, Wildlife Resource personnel relocated 17 elk that had been frequenting the Kimball Junction area and surrounding neighborhoods. While some saw the herd as a scenic amenity, others were concerned about the damage they can cause to local golf courses and residential landscaping. The lumbering giants were also causing traffic hazards as they meander thoughout the Basin, so the professionals swooped in to try to mitigate the situation.
Their efforts were met with mixed reactions — including emotional pleas to leave the animals in peace.
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DWR officials say they are charged with protecting both wildlife and humans and that incidents are handled on case-by-case, evidence-based criteria. But it’s clear that once they are called in there is already a conflict. And in most of those cases there is no happy outcome for the animals that inadvertently breach the human domain.
The best solutions are those aimed at preventing conflicts: land conservation, minimizing urban sprawl along the wildlands interface and transportation planning that puts a priority on protecting migration routes.
Residents also need to take individual responsibility, including preserving natural vegetation, limiting the use of chemical landscape treatments and protecting streambeds. Most importantly they must ensure domestic pets do not interfere with wildlife.
Let’s be clear when there is a showdown between wildlife and a domestic animal — the fault almost always lies with the owner of the domestic animal. And the DWR officer is caught in the middle.
Moose, elk and cougar lovers need to continue speaking up, but they also have to make tangible investments in the cause they so passionately support. One of the best ways to ensure that wildlife habitat is preserved is to contribute to the Summit Land Conservancy, wesaveland.org, and Utah Open Lands, utahopenlands.org, two well-established local conservation organizations.
Activists can also look into serving on the state’s citizen advisory boards that help to guide DWR and DNR policies as well as pressing local city and county elected officials to continue supporting open space acquisitions, conservation measures and sensible limits on growth and development.
One thing we can all agree on — it will be a sad day when Park City’s iconic moose are gone. Let’s make sure that never happens.