The citizens of Blaine County must decide whether they will live with wildlife or push for reductions of elk, moose and deer populations and eradication of predators.
Living with wildlife is preferable, but it will require people to have greater knowledge of wildlife behaviors and a willingness to change their own.
Recent attacks by mountain lions that maimed one domestic dog and killed two in Ketchum and killed a large cat and injured a dog in Hailey got everyone’s attention.
When people come to Blaine County or its towns, no one tells them that they are in a valley shared with wildlife.
Coming out of any city where two-legged predators are the primary threat to safety, people don’t realize that they need to be aware of four-legged predators that include mountain lions, wolves, coyotes and bobcats while in the Wood River Valley. They don’t know how to co-exist and are shocked by cougar attacks or the sight of a moose in a neighborhood.
No one trains people about how to share the valley. Local public agencies aided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game need to educate people in how to avoid conflicts. They should engage advertising, signs, brochures and web posts, along with well-noticed public presentations, to increase public awareness.
The encroachment of subdivisions into wildlife habitat along the Big Wood River and in every side canyon of the Wood River Valley has forced deer, elk and moose to live near humans to get enough food and water to survive long winters.
The subdivisions have pushed deer and elk into concentrated bands that populate everything from ranchettes to tiny fenced yards. “The Moose in My Backyard” is not a fairytale here; it is a reality.
Higher numbers of deer and elk produce higher numbers of predators. Four-legged prey attract four-legged predators that don’t distinguish between Bambi and Fluffy when it comes to finding a meal. Hunting fat, clueless Fluffy is a lot easier than harvesting elk, which are always on alert and have a jaw-breaking kick. Mountain lions top the local predator hierarchy and may target humans, especially small children.
No one has to live with a cougar under the deck. However, residents and visitors must adapt to their often-invisible presence by keeping an eye on domestic pets and lighting dark yards when they are outdoors, especially at night and in the early morning. Leashing pets during early morning and dusk is also a best practice.
Bear spray and noisemakers also are good to have on hand when walking, skiing or snowshoeing.
Living with wildlife enriches human lives, but people have to be smart about it. Otherwise, it can be lethal.