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When should you report a wildlife encounter?

Tips - winter wildlife
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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A moose chillin' on a Provo sidewalk in 2016.

As snow falls in the mountains, animals move to lower elevations for food, which means more contact with humans.

The number of wildlife encounters in Utah has increased in recent years, as the state’s population grows and foothill areas are developed.

In the summer, encounters often occur in the mountains and canyons, which are natural wildlife habitat areas. In colder weather, these encounters become more common in cities and other urban areas.

When temperatures drop, deer, moose, and other big game head to lower valley areas. Cougars, which prey mostly on deer, often follow along.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) said that with more doorbell and security cameras on homes, wildlife encounters that would previously go undetected are being reported more often.

“Getting too close to a wild animal can cause the animal to feel threatened,” DWR Capt. Chad Bettridge said.

“If it feels threatened, it will sometimes act aggressively to protect itself. Plus, because it’s harder for some wildlife to find food in the winter, they need to conserve energy in order to survive.

"Constantly harassing or chasing species such as moose and deer cause them to use up some of the essential fat reserves and energy they need to survive.”

DWR wants to make clear that it isn’t always necessary to report wildlife. So when should you?

People should report a cougar sighting if the animal has killed something in a neighborhood or yard, it exhibits aggressive behaviors, or if it appears several times in the same area.

One-time sightings of cougars are typically when animals are moving through an area, and they often leave by the time DWR biologists and conservation officers respond.

Black bears should be reported if they are in lower areas within city limits or in heavily populated areas. Same thing with moose, as urban environments with fences and vehicles can be dangerous to them.

However, bears usually hibernate from roughly November through March, meaning they likely won’t be around during the winter.

A deer sighting should only be reported if the animal is acting aggressively.

Utahns may see more hawks, eagles, or other birds of prey during the winter. Often these birds eat up so much roadkill that they are unable to fly until they digest. DWR said birds should not be reported unless they are at risk of being hit by cars or have an obvious injury.

Feeding wildlife is highly discouraged, as it could harm animals by introducing foods not in their diets, and possibly spread chronic wasting disease.

“Whenever someone feeds wildlife, those animals will frequently return to that area in search of food,” Bettridge with DWR said.

“These areas are often near highways and towns. Concentrating deer and other wildlife near inhabited areas can sometimes result in increased traffic accidents and other human/wildlife conflicts.

"Attracting deer to your property through feeding can also attract predators, like cougars that follow deer herds. And while deer and moose are not predators, they are still wild animals and can be aggressive.”

To learn more about wildlife safety, visit wildawareutah.org

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.