This morning my wife and I saw a coyote for the first time on our property. It walked in front of the house and up our driveway. This was a great occasion as we have lived here for five years and have seen most of the indigenous mammals of the area. Coyotes are common in Colorado, but in our case they seem to occupy more of the lower elevations. At about 8,800 feet, our neighborhood has instead been settled extensively by the fox, who seem to thrive. They will eat a variety of things, but are highly skilled rodent hunters. I’ve seen happy foxes running across the road with squirrels in their mouths, and I know there are a ton of mice up here, evident by the large numbers I’ve caught in the storage space under the house through the years. We’ve been able to identify about five individual foxes on our property since we moved here, all living somewhere in the greater neighborhood. Our favorite is a black-colored variation we call Obsidian, but we are starting to think there have been more than one and the black gene is well-established in our neighborhood.
We also see a fair amount of black bears in the spring and summer. This year we had four visits, but in 2007 we had eleven. This is our most-welcomed visitor by far and not the least bit frightening. To our annoying dismay we find there are entirely too many people (including Coloradoans) who are ignorant about this wonderful creature. There is a historical stigma against bears, rooted in ignorance and human insecurity. This has led to the extinction of the grizzly in Colorado for most of the last fifty years, and that ignorance-based fear has been wrongly transfered to the black bear, who in contrast enjoys a healthy population in the state. Bears are not dangerous unless you are irresponsible, especially black bears. A naturally-raised bear without human interference is fearful of humans. If you properly stow away your food (and that includes food garbage, or even birdseed- as we’ve had to learn), they’ll just pass through without any incident. Of course a mother bear with cubs creates a more delicate (a better word than dangerous) situation, but the same rule applies with that encounter as it does all other wildlife: respect them and give them plenty of space. In most cases face-to-face contact with black bears will result in the bear running away from you, as I’ve experienced many times.
We have never seen a wild cat on our property, but have seen a mountain lion further down the road in the greater neighborhood. Cats are far more skittish than wild canines and seeing one in the wild is a rare and special treat. Neither of us has seen a bobcat or lynx in the wild and doing so would be incredible. The lynx was likely driven to extinction in Colorado by 1973, but in 1999 an ambitious program of lynx reintroduction began in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado and is today considered a success. Next up should be the wolf, but I fear that majestic animal has simply been replaced by an overpopulation of humans in Colorado, which I hardly see as an improvement from what it once was. It is ironic that since the dawn of civilization, no matter how dangerous or bothersome we deem other predators, it is our species that can create extinctions and widespread destruction, not theirs. Nature regulates its own populations, yet even with our so-called superior intellect we seem unable to regulate our own.
Here is a list of all the mammals we’ve seen on our property over the last five years:
Western Harvest Mouse
Little Brown Bat
Red Fox (including black variation)
Pine squirrel (or Chickaree)
Here is a list of most of the other Colorado mountain-dwelling species. Sightings of many of these on my property would be unlikely, extremely rare, or virtually impossible due to wrong habitat, elusiveness, or too small of populations:
1. Pine Marten
5. Mountain Lion
7. Bighorn Sheep
8. Mountain Goat
Of those 10 I have seen 8 elsewhere in Colorado.