Welcome to “Wildlife Matters,” a new column about wildlife issues in the Pikes Peak region. The name says it all. My life and career revolve around protecting and preserving our wildlife. It’s probably something we all agree on.
The northwest Colorado Springs neighborhoods along Woodmen Road offer everyone the opportunity to live in a beautiful, outdoorsy place with a little more space than the city, a few more trees and a bit more wildlife. The chance to see bear, deer, fox and even an occasional moose attract many to the area.
This is where I come in. I am a District Wildlife Manager, or DWM, for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and I manage the northwest El Paso County/Colorado Springs area. I am the one who tries to help you and our wildlife live in harmony.
Some might say I’m a game warden or wildlife officer. But in Colorado, a DWM is way more. Yes, I am a state commissioned law enforcement officer, but I’m also a biologist, teacher and ambassador between the public and all that is wild in Colorado.
I grew up in Ohio, in the suburbs of Cleveland, where I wasn’t surrounded by open space or much wildlife. But I had a deep attraction to everything wild and outdoorsy and I always knew that one day I would have a career dealing with the outdoors and wildlife.
I received my bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management from Virginia Tech. After college, I worked temporary positions and ended up in Alaska for about 10 years. After that, I worked as a firefighter in California.
But I missed the outdoors and what I truly loved: wildlife. So I changed careers and worked to become a wildlife officer in California. Three years later, I came to Colorado to start my career as a DWM.
First, I first went through the Police Officer Standards and Training academy for five months. Next came six months of CPW-specific training where I learned all about Colorado’s wildlife statutes and regulations, and how to work from a boat, ATV, snowmobile, or horse. And I learned about managing the conflicts that occur when wildlife live in urban areas.
After all the training was completed, I was sworn in as one of just 136 DWMs in Colorado and assigned my district. I was lucky to be given northwest El Paso County. This district encompasses northwest Colorado Springs as well as the Air Force Academy, Palmer Lake, Monument and Black Forest. I have been the DWM here for just over three years now and have enjoyed my time incredibly.
Perhaps you are wondering what a “typical day” looks like for a DWM. The truth is, there really is no “typical day.”
One day I may be flying deer/elk surveys in my district, teaching a class at an elementary school about animal skulls, checking hunters in the field to make sure they are following our laws, or crawling in bat caves with a helmet lamp shining the way.
My district is more urban than many, so more of my time is associated with human/wildlife interactions. Here is a good example. Each April for the last two years, I have received calls about a bobcat frequently seen on or under a deck in the Rockrimmon area. The homeowner was uncomfortable with the cat and called asking what can be done. I told the homeowner the bobcat might have a litter of kittens nearby so neighbors could expect to see the adult bobcat in the area for a few months.
Still, it’s unnerving when people go outside on a nice spring day only to hear growls coming from under their deck. That’s where I come in. I’ll visit, look and listen for the noises from under the deck. I want to make sure it’s not a mountain lion.
Rather than remove the bobcat family, I’m more likely to tell a homeowner how lucky they are to have a nice litter of bobcats under their deck. They have nothing to worry about as long as they don’t let a small dog or cat outside unattended. (That’s true whether they have a bobcat in residence under the deck or not. We have plenty of predators ready to snatch unprotected pets.)
I also reassure them that their rabbit population will be kept in better order.
During spring and summer, I can expect many calls about bears, which live throughout my district and definitely make life here interesting. The main thing to know is that the fewer opportunities we give bears to do non-bear behaviors — like getting into garages and houses, opening refrigerators and car doors, learning to eat from bird feeders and trash cans — the better we’ll get along with our omnivorous neighbors.
It’s really important you keep your trash inside the garage or shed, with the doors locked, until the day of trash pickup. Please do not feed birds between April and November. Don’t put dog food or cat food outside. Keep your garage closed at all times. And clean your yard of fruit when it drops to the ground in the fall.
Simple things like that can keep food sources out of bears’ reach and will prevent me from having to interact with those bears.
Finally, we all know this area is filled with more deer than we can imagine. Please do not feed them. It’s not healthy for the deer since their stomachs are not made to digest a lot of foods people put out for them. The best thing to do is to keep the deer wild and let them find their own food and water.
In the coming months, I’ll share more stories and tips for living in harmony with our wildlife. Got a question, problem or column idea? Please call me at 719-227-5284.
I might even answer your question in a future installment of “Wildlife Matters.”
Corey Adler holds a degree in wildlife management from Virginia Tech. He works as a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in northwest El Paso County and Colorado Springs.