Taking The Wild Card Out Of Wildlife

By 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 out there is rare, many nature lovers, like me, enjoy at least 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. And what I have learned is that we play a vital role in its existence. But our wildlife species are changing–largely because of people. And those changes have profound implications for all of us.

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 and to its detriment. We grossly underestimate the enormous power we have to drive change–both good and bad–in our natural world.

Today, wildlife conflicts are occurring at an alarming rate. And, we are affecting nature by destroying these animals that we have turned into problem cases. We call them problem animals because it is not their normal behavior to get so close to humans and cause a problem.

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

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

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

One thing is certain: Our respect for wildlife is intimately connected 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 provide a role in our tourism economy, they play 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 are forced to 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. — Aspen Times

EDITOR’S NOTE: 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 was a moderator for a wildlife conflicts media panel at the Sept. 17-22 Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Annual Conference in Snowmass, CO.