Cougar activity along the Front Range has increased over the past few decades and with it, the question has emerged: Is our wildlife too wild? While we as Coloradans enjoy nature, can we tolerate nature when it begins to threaten our pets and children? Should humans coexist with nature or should we attempt to subdue it?
For the better part of a century, humans declared war against many large animals across the American West, nearly wiping out the bears, wolves and mountain lions.
The early Coloradans destroyed these predators to protect themselves and their livestock. Over the past few decades, however, the tide of public opinion changed.
As ranching grew less important to our economy and the environmentalist movement grew, attitudes shifted and we began to protect Colorado’s predators.
There were several good reasons to allow the predator populations to rise. In particular, the killing of Colorado’s cougars allowed our population of deer to grow unchecked. The result of this was that there were too many deer and too few plants, resulting in the mass starvation of deer and a widespread destruction of Colorado’s foliage.
Once cougars were protected from hunters, their population rebounded sharply as they fed off the overabundant deer. This was widely believed to be a good thing.
However, the deer population had spread into Front Range cities including Fort Collins, and their predators, the cougars, followed.
While the scientific community held that cougars were not a threat to humans – mountain lions generally prefer to eat deer or elk — the idea of 100-pound cats wandering neighborhoods in our city rightly scared some folks.
While mountain lions generally avoid human contact, there are always exceptions. Eventually, the inevitable happened; a mountain lion killed an 18-year-old jogger in Idaho Springs, Colo., in 1990.
Closer to home, a 10-year-old was killed by a cougar in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1997 while in 1999, a 3-year-old boy was killed in the Poudre Canyon by a mountain lion.
Not only do mountain lions, especially if they are wounded, pregnant or rabid, occasionally decide that humans are prey, they also have a tendency to start hunting for our pets.
Just two weeks ago, a cougar prowled along I-25 just outside Longmont decapitating at least three pet rabbits and a pet cat before disappearing after being spotted in a hotel parking lot.
Historically, after events like this, some people, in particular parents of young children and pet-owners, have called for state wildlife officials to take action against the cougars. While the state will relocate cougars it deems dangerous from populated areas, it largely has taken a hands-off attitude toward the beasts.
As the human population along the Front Range grows and we protect more open space, there will surely be more and more human and mountain lion interaction.
Surely there will continue to be deaths of children and pets caused by cougars, but I believe we will have to tolerate the occasional casualty.
Residents of Fort Collins and other Colorado cities must realize that by choosing to live in the gloriously pristine and untamed surroundings of the Rockies, we’ve also agreed to live next to dangerous predators.
Cougars, bears and wolves were here before us, and they are essential elements in protecting the biodiversity of Colorado. While we can take some steps, such as relocating predators that start attacking pets, we must adapt to wildlife.
There are simple steps, such as keeping your pets and children inside between dusk and dawn when cougars hunt, to protect your loved ones from predators.
However, the biggest step you can take is simply to be aware. Most accidents with wildlife occur because people aren’t prepared. If you’re going to engage in an activity that could expose you to cougars, such as hiking alone along the Horsetooth Reservoir, watch your back and bring some pepper spray.
Instead of trying to kill all the cougars, or naively ignoring the fact that they exist, we can safely coexist with them while protecting ourselves and our loved ones.
Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.