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‘Tis the season for urban wildlife in Utah, but not every sighting needs to be reported

Three deer explore a snowy landscape near Springville, Utah in 2016.
Courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Three deer explore a snowy landscape near Springville, Utah in 2016.

Snow-capped peaks are making their appearances on the Utah landscape, and those same cold, snowy conditions are pushing wildlife down the mountains.

When snowpack makes food more difficult to find at high elevations, deer and elk can’t exactly put on snowshoes to look for it.

“Their hooves are sharp so they post-hole essentially. It’s energetically costly to walk through snow that deep,” said David Stoner, a research professor in wildland resources at Utah State University.

So, many species of Utah wildlife move to lower and more populated elevations. Remember when the elk became the toast of Salt Lake City last February?

But the deer can bring predators with them.

“Because they’re migrating down, the cougars will often follow them because their main food source are deer,” said Faith Heaton Jolley, spokesperson for Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources.

Jolley said there’s been an increase in reports of cougar sightings over the last few years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there have been more cougars moving through these areas.

More housing has been built at the base of mountains where sightings are common, and, most importantly, a lot of people have purchased security cameras and doorbell cameras that capture cougars that would otherwise go unnoticed.

A single cougar sighting on a doorbell camera doesn’t need to be reported to wildlife officials, Jolley said, since cougars tend to move through areas quickly, and would likely be gone before a conservation officer could respond.

There are circumstances when a cougar sighting should be flagged, though.

“Report a cougar sighting if it’s killed something in a neighborhood or yard, because that means it’s gonna be sticking around in the area for that food source,” said Jolley. Sightings should also be reported if the cougar is “exhibiting aggressive behavior, or if it has appeared several times on your security cameras or doorbell cameras.”

Utahns are far less likely to call in about an encounter with the generally friendly, docile deer populations, but there are circumstances in which these sightings should be reported, too. A fast spreading illness called chronic wasting disease has been found in some deer in the state.

Wildland professor David Stoner said the disease is similar to mad cow disease, but can’t be passed on to humans.

“It’s fatal, and we don’t know much about how it’s spread,” he said.

Deer with the disease will look emaciated, confused, may seem to wander aimlessly, salivate a lot and have droopy ears. If observed in this state, they should be reported.

All moose sightings in populated areas should be reported, too, since they are unlikely to move out of a particular area on their own.

Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
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