RBC I Luckily there haven’t been any tiger sightings in Rio Blanco County, but bears and lions have been on the minds of law enforcement and wildlife officers in in Meeker and Rangely this summer.
And while there have been no encounters between humans and either bears or lions in Rio Blanco County as of Friday, there is easy opportunity for that to change.
Bill deVergie, the district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) in Meeker acknowledged Friday that bears and lions have made a couple of appearances close to residences and businesses in Rangely and Meeker.
“There have been a few reports of bears and lions,” deVergie said. “As far as the bears go, there have been a couple near Meeker, with one in the town (limits) and one on the west end of Meeker.
“It has been years since animals have attacked any humans and since it was proven that there were any animal attacks in either of the towns,” he said. “These recent spottings and actions have caused no issues at all with humans or pets.”
deVergie said a bear entered Meeker and was spotted near the intersection of First and Cleveland streets, west of Meeker High School.
“We darted it and took it out of town and released it,” he said.
deVergie said there was a bear in early July on the west end of Rangely down by the river.
“This was on private property, and I understand the bear was shot at, which scared it off,” he said. “The bear was not hurt and it appears to have scared it off because we haven’t had any bear reports from Rangely since that day.”
deVergie offered advice on how to keep the bears away from one’s home. He recommended keeping screen doors secured as the bears aren’t afraid of getting on decks. He also said it is a good idea not to leave dog or cat food outside as a foraging bear can smell food like that quite easily.
“If they can’t get entry, they can’t do any major damage,” he said.
deVergie said another bear had gotten into a Meeker-area meat-packing plant on the west edge of town.
“It didn’t get into any meat; it did get into a few hides,” he said. “This was the week before the bear we trapped, and we have had absolutely no reports since the one bear was moved.
“We don’t know for sure if it was the same bear, but I’d say there is certainly a possibility,” he said. “All of these in Rangely and Meeker occurred in the last week of June or the first week of July. It has been quiet for three weeks.”
Lions, however, are a different story than bears, deVergie said.
“Bears are foragers; they will hunt by smell and eat almost anything that is edible with a scent,” deVergie said. “They will find food outside, and that includes large-scale bird feeders.
“Lions, on the other hand, are true predators; they usually hunt something down in order to eat it,” he said. “They are not known as animals likely to eat pet food left outdoors.
“However, a dog or a cat can make a great meal for a lion,” he said. “Lions are more prone to be looking for a dog or cat in the backyard.
“Rio Blanco County doesn’t seem to have a lot of problems with the lions in either of the towns because there are so many dogs that bark, and, generally, lions are loners and not very fond of barking dogs.”
deVergie said that Rio Blanco County is quite fortunate in that dogs are so plentiful that they tend to keep the mountain lions (also called cougars or puma) out of the towns even though the county’s lions and bears “both have robust populations,” he said.
deVergie said the CPW may increase the quota for lions this upcoming hunting season, and he would encourage hunters this fall to pick up a lion and/or bear license to help deal with the issue.
Colorado used to have a spring bear season when hunters could use bait or dogs to track down the animals, and those methods of spring hunting were blocked by a state amendment, deVergie said, adding that passage of the amendment has made a huge difference in the number of animals taken during the year.
He added that it is part of that amendment, and not up to the CPW, that the law now states that bears cannot be hunted prior to Sept. 2.
“That’s why we are outright encouraging hunters to pick up a bear license in particular for their fall hunting seasons, regardless of the big game animal they are hunting,” deVergie said. “It doesn’t cost much and it certainly would help Northwest Colorado if we could reduce the number of bears.
“We have had some livestock taken by the bears this year, and we may gain by animals being harvested by the farmers/ranchers/livestock producers,” deVergie said. “These large producers can kill the animals if found in their herds or the USDA’s Wildlife Service agents can help with bears and lions if there are problems, and they can also help with eradication of coyotes in cases of damage control.”
Suggestions recommended by Dinosaur National Monument if you meet a mountain lion:
■ Don’t run, as this may trigger a cougar’s attack instinct
■ Stand and face it
■ Pick up children
■ Appear large, wave arms or jacket over your head
■ Do not approach, back away slowly
■ Maintain eye contact
If you encounter a mountain lion and it acts aggressively:
■ Do not turn your back or take your eyes off it
■ Remain standing
■ Throw things
■ Shout loudly
■ Fight back aggressively.
deVergie said that while there have been a few predator losses since last hunting season, “We have had a very good survival rate as far as area deer and elk are concerned. I look forward to another good hunting season.