Living with Wild Neighbors: Durango’s Wildlife

With so much wilderness at our doorsteps, perhaps it’s unsurprising that wildlife encounters are so common in Durango. Indeed, it seems mule deer are especially pervasive among our thoroughfares, back roads, gardens, and parks. So much so that, while tourists may gawk or take pause, our locals often pass by guilelessly without effect.

And while other animals that wander into town, like bears, may draw more intrigue from Durangoans, they are ultimately just part of the scenery.

Durango is wild and surrounded by wildlife. As such, it’s critical that we learn, both as individuals and as a community, to live with such wildlife.

“In most situations, people and wildlife can coexist,” according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The key is to respect the wildness of wildlife.”

While socially and legally we’ve established intricate rules of engagement, so to speak, that help us navigate through our community effectively, these animals have an entirely different set of behaviors and understandings. And therein lies the rub.

Deer are perhaps the most common, or at least apparent, wild animal that one encounters here. Adapting to our yards, sidewalks, and roads, mule deer seem more or less at ease making Durango their residency.

A La Plata County deer FAQ attributes their comfortability in town to the overwhelming abundance of food, in the form of yards, fields, and gardens, and a general lack of predators.

“The trade-off for the deer is simply having to adapt to living in close proximity to people and their pets,” the document points out.

That adaptation, it seems, is not entirely seamless. Regularly, deer in and around Durango are struck by vehicles, which can prove catastrophic for both parties involved. Of course, they also know no better than to enjoy a good graze on flower beds, vegetable gardens, and the like, which is more of a nuisance than anything else, but frustrating nevertheless.

Ultimately, these fellas don’t have any way to understand pedestrian laws or appreciate the aesthetics or ownership as applied to gardens, making them the unintentional bane of motorists and gardeners alike.

Beyond being vigilant, CPW and La Plata County don’t offer much in the way of a solution to avoid wildlife collisions. They do, however, note that dawn and dusk are high times for these types of incidents, as deer and other animals are more active at these times and visibility is low. Reducing speed and staying aware.

“The main push of migrating deer cross Hwy 160 the second week in May and again the last week in October,” according to the La Plata County deer FAQ.

As for managing deer in the yard and garden, implementing deterrents are the recommended course of action. Using exclusion fencing is recommended among the most effective solutions, however, may also be the most involved. Alternatively, while repellents aren’t guaranteed to work they are certainly more attainable. La Plata County recommends trying a homemade repellent recipe for its cost-effectiveness.

With the abundance of deer in Durango, mountain lions are also no strangers. In 2016, a mountain lion was spotted on multiple occasions in the Junction Creek area. Earlier this year, a mountain lion and her cub were relocated after a deer carcass was discovered at Miller Middle School and separately in a nearby neighborhood. A mountain biking forum has reported multiple sightings in the Test Tracks just this last month.

Seeking food sources, they can find themselves interacting with humans. “They tend to live in remote, primitive country with plentiful deer and adequate cover. Such conditions exist in mountain subdivisions, urban fringes, and open spaces,” according to CPW.

Generally, however, mountain lions prefer to remain elusive. Bright lights, noise, and insufficient cover preclude them from inhabiting in-town. If, however, you live in the fringe communities around Durango, you may encounter one. Make yourself large, be noisy and make sure you don’t crouch or turn away if approached. Throw rocks and fight back if it gets aggressive.

“People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools, and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up,” according to CPW.

Bears, by contrast, are a little more enterprising and bold when they choose to coexist. Brought in by enticing smells, bears tend to remain where food is readily available. Their clever, opportunistic nature often leads them to dumpsters and trash cans, fruit trees and bird feeders, cars, and homes.

Beyond the conventional attractants, citronella candles and even hot tub covers are known to bring in bears.

“It’s likely that the smell of the vinyl material is what attracts the bear’s attention. Vinyl and other plastics give off numerous volatile compounds for quite a long period, similar to the “new car” smell if you’re lucky enough to buy new cars,” Colorado Division of Wildlife black bear researcher, Tom Beck, said in a Bear Smart article on managing attractants. “For some reason, a wide array of petroleum-based smells, like lantern and propane stove fuel, attract bears. In fact, the additive put in natural gas to make it a noticeable odor has been used to successfully lure in bears during bait-trapping operations.”

Solutions vary, depending on what’s bringing the bear in. Ranging from bear proofing and booby-trapping to hiding odors and preventing interest, there are plentiful resources available from organizations like CPW and Bear Smart that can help mitigate bear risks of all types.

At the end of the day, bears are simply looking for the most calories for the least amount of effort. In order to protect wildlife, it’s critical to take the requisite steps to discourage bears from taking interest in your home in the first place. Not doing so ultimately puts the bear at risk of needing relocation in some cases and being killed in others.

While deer, mountain lion, and bear are among the more dramatic animals, smaller critters are also present in and around Durango. Raccoons get into garbage and make chimneys their home, skunks bring with them their odor can spray people and their pets, bats get into attics and leave guano, and woodpeckers rattle home siding.

We’ve amassed creative solutions to dealing with each species, and many resources are available locally and online to provide insight into their behavior. At the end of the day, each of these animals is just trying to get by in a community with foreign rules and expectations contrary to their wild nature. We can show stewardship to both our community and to these animals by taking the time to learn and understand how to coexist more effectively, without conflict.

If you have questions about wildlife in and around Durango, contact our CPW Durango Wildlife Service Center. Potentially dangerous bears should be reported there, however, more often than not bears are just passing through and don’t pose a threat. Reporting these can help keep a tab on their activity and can be done through Bear Smart Durango.

Dead animals can be reported to CPW or, after hours, Colorado State Patrol at 970.249.4392. You can report injured animals to the Durango Animal Hospital at 970.247.3174.

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