Western Slope Round-Up: Lions, Beetles and Bears. Oh, My!

Drought conditions and a late spring frost on the Western Slope have forced wildlife into urban areas in the search for food. Yet, these same conditions are conducive for pine beetles.

Then there’s the other kind of “Bear” that’s actually getting rarer over the Divide-small town cops.

Also, the town of Olathe was bathed in over 800 pounds of butter last weekend. And it wasn’t enough….please click and read on.On the Lookout for Big Kitties
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – There is a mama cougar and her cubs hanging around some condominiums at the base of the Steamboat Springs ski area and the Division of Wildlife has cautioned locals to be wary of approaching the animals. In one instance, children were calling “kitty, kitty” to a cub unaware that the mother, who probably was not amused, was close by.

From the Steamboat Pilot:

Connell, vice president of Colorado Resort Services, said she has posted warnings in all units about the threats of mountain lions.

“I don’t want to have a tragedy for a mountain lion or a resident,” she said. “The DOW said to educate your people, and I urge all property managers in the area to do this.”

Jim Haskins, area wildfire manager for the DOW, said he sent two officers to the area, but no mountain lions were found.

Haskins noted that mountain lions are secretive creatures that rarely seek human contact, especially when traveling with a cub.

Haskins added that living in Routt County, residents should be aware about coexisting with wildlife, including bears and mountain lions. He asked that residents abide by city ordinances designed to prevent bears from accessing food sources that are driving wildlife into the city every day.

Mountain lions have been known to attack and in rare cases, kill unsuspecting hikers. Usually the animals have a medical condition that forces them to seek easy prey, humans, instead of their usual diet of deer and rabbits. Three people in Colorado have been killed in Colorado by cougars in recent history and chances are 1 in 19 million that you could be next.

Bears Not Bearing Food Problems Well
Today’s Denver Post recapped recent problems with bears across the Western Slope. As these animals prepare for their long winter slumber, they become eating machines. Unfortunately, there’s not much to snack on.

Take the incident near Carbondale last week when a huge black bear had to be put down for tearing down a door to get into a residence. Wildlife officers guessed the male bruin had to be the “King of the Forest” because of his size. If the top of the bear food chain is having problems finding food, officials imagine the lower echelon is really stressed to find enough forage to last the winter.

Colorado eliminated spring bear hunts many years ago by voter referendum. Sows with cubs were being hunted by mistake. But what is worse? Killing bears by bullets or starvation?

Forests of Green Are Brown
GRAND COUNTY-The infestation of pine beetles has turned many of Colorado’s emerald forests into glades of rust. From the Summit Daily:

Grand County should be renamed “Brown County,” said Staniel Juranek, 79, who’s been selling produce with his wife near Lake Granby for 15 years. The mountain pine beetle, which is expected to destroy as much as 90 percent of the lodgepole pine forests in Summit County, has definitely done its damage here.

Many homes, surrounded by the skeletal remains of long-dead pine trees, look like the sole, untouched survivors of cataclysmic fires. Grand Lake resident Bob Means says that even after spraying all the trees around his house, they still had to cut several down.

The dominant colors are red and brown. Acre for acre, you won’t see this many dead, red and brown trees in Eagle County, at least not yet.

That’s why there’s been a strong push to clear and spray trees in recreation areas and campsites. The most the forest service can do now is shield those priceless areas from the inevitable wildfires that will clear out all the dead trees and trigger the regrowing process.

Interesting that one of Nature’s most effective ways of dealing with the beetles is a forest fire, yet it would be the most devastating disaster for those living in the beetle-kill areas.

Staffing Rural Police Departments Troublesome
High housing costs. Low pay. Big city problems. If that doesn’t deter law enforcement officers from applying for rural positions, passing the tests will.

The Glenwood Springs Police Chief lamented that he is having problems recruiting because fewer people are seeking law enforcement careers. He explained his predicament to the Post Independent:

When he applied for a job on the force, there were about 30 or 40 people trying for one position. Now there are about five or six people applying for four open positions. The standard in recent years has been to be about two or three officers short staffed at any given time. The problem is exacerbated here by things like the high cost of living and housing.

The GSPD was testing potential officers Friday and Saturday. On Friday, two of four applicants showed up, and one of those failed the written test.

The pay of a little more than $39,000 a year for a starting officer is competitive for the area, but an officer could make more in Denver. And find a cheaper place to live.

“A lot of our guys live west of here,” he said. “They can’t afford to buy a house here, or rent.”

The end result of being short staffed is cutting down on services. Officers have to prioritize calls and don’t have time for certain tasks that used to be performed.

“Our traffic enforcement suffers,” the official said. “You’re more reactive than you are proactive because you’re just running from call to call.”

The Roaring Fork Valley between Aspen and Rifle isn’t like Mayberry any more either. From the Vail Daily:

An unusual amount of violence has broken the perception of safety recently in the Roaring Fork Valley, where gunplay and assault used to seem like the problems of distant cities.

“There’s definitely a trend going,” said one agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in the valley. “We’ve seen an increase in overall violence. A lot of it doesn’t get reported. There are more domestics, more knives, more guns being picked up. In the valley, we didn’t see that stuff before.”

With the shooting of a Glenwood police officer, a wild car chase in Aspen, a slaying in Glenwood and gunfire in Basalt, the valley seems to have awoken to a different reality this summer. It is clear, however, that violent crime in the upper valley has not been anything like that in towns such as Rifle, Parachute and Glenwood Springs.

If the Latino population has something to do with increasing violence, a federal agent said, it has to do with Mexican drug cartels and gangs, and not the average immigrant.

“As far as the violence goes, we’re seeing more gang taggings,” he said. “A lot of it could be wannabes, but we’re definitely seeing more organization.”

Law enforcement officials in the valley are by and large in agreement that a burgeoning Latino population cannot be blamed for the violence, though many said the violence has been detrimental to race relations here.

“It’s getting frightening because people are tense,” said Maria Munday, Pitkin County’s Latino-Anglo liaison.

Montrose is no different. The county sheriff noted he has about half the staff he needs and the deputy shortage will have dire consequences.

From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

At present, Montrose Sheriff Dunlap has 13 deputies on the east end of the county and five on the less- populated west end. He has committed through a recent agreement with Nucla and Naturita on the west end to add one more deputy there and is advertising for two vacancies in the communications department and three more deputy positions in the jail, he said

“We’re looking for nine, but it’s a tough job,” he said. “On top of that, our pay is so much below everybody else’s in the area, it’s really hard to get people here.”

The commissioners approved pay hikes in the department July 1, which puts the starting salary for a patrol deputy at $37,314, up from the previous starting pay of $34,050.

But it remains less than a Montrose Police Department officer starts at, Dunlap said, and is considerably less than deputies make in Mesa County, which starts deputies at $50,201 a year. The Garfield County Sheriff’s Department starts deputies at $38,813 a year, and the Delta County Sheriff’s Department starts deputies at $33,919 a year.

Dunlap said the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department’s training budget also is short on funds and is only $331 per officer per year.

“The city of Montrose’s training budget is four times that, and Mesa County’s is five times more,” he said.

Needless to say, another reason why the law enforcement pool has been drained: the Iraq War.

Corn Shucks Recycled?
OLATHE-Leaving the Western Slope on a brighter note, the 16th annual Olathe Sweet Corn Festival was a great success unless you had to go to the bathroom. The event ran out of toilet paper.

What was worse, the crowd consumed all the butter before 75,000 ears of corn were eaten. Hmmm? One wonders if those corn shucks from were used to eliminate one of the shortages of supplies mentioned above….