The great outdoors!

By Brenda Koehler

Ah…the great outdoors! These blue-sky, sunny days make everyone want to get outside and enjoy the world around us. We are so fortunate to live, work or play in this special part of Utah that’s nestled between the Uinta and Wasatch Mountain ranges. It is a veritable mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Of course there’s the skiing, and in the winter months you’ll find opportunities for snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing— and the list goes on and on. The rest of the year people play golf, do some rock climbing, bike or hike. Just name your passion and you’ll find a place for it here—even scuba diving! Recreational activities of all sorts abound; and for those who love being outside, trails have become a very important part of their recreational activity. An added benefit is the opportunity to view wildlife while getting in some exercise.

Cross-country skiers, hikers, and bikers are fortunate to have access to some of the best trails in the nation right here in our own backyard. Running through the Park City, Snyderville Basin and Summit County area are 400 plus miles of trails. Wasatch County currently offers over 150 miles of trails, most of which wind through Wasatch State Park. Although having an abundance of trails that traverse through scenic mountain areas is a good thing, it can also have a downside. Many, if not most of our trails, run through sensitive wildlife habitat. It is not uncommon to see deer, elk, moose, fox, and coyote, or even the occasional mountain lion or, very rarely, a bear. The Summit Park (Parley’s Summit) area is known to have bears wandering through every now and then, but you can run into moose almost anywhere—including on the streets of Park City! Residents and visitors alike are thrilled to spot these wild creatures, especially while out having fun on the trail; but, there’s often another frequent participant on these outings that can wreak havoc on a peaceful encounter. Dogs. Man’s best friend. We love to take our pets everywhere—to the store, in the car, and on the trail. Unfortunately, although you may view your dog as a friend and nonthreatening companion, wildlife quite simply view your dog as a predator—basically, a wolf in dog’s clothing.

While you may see your dog’s activities as harmless fun, off-leash pets can cause irreparable damage to wildlife and their habitat. Even if your dog isn’t the type that chases wildlife, dogs that are off the trail can significantly impact the wild in ways that you might not even see. Th is part of Utah is occupied year round by a wide range of wild animals that are feeding, finding mates and giving birth. In the spring, animals raising young are easily disturbed by humans or their pets; while during the winter months, moose, deer or elk can be impacted significantly enough to deplete their precious energy preserves, often causing malnutrition or even death.

Birds that nest low to the ground often have their nests dislodged or destroyed by dogs without owners ever noticing. Moose are particularly disturbed by dogs, since they closely resemble the moose’s primary predator, the wolf. And, if
you are running with your dog or dogs, you are considered as part of that wolf pack. Moose cows are extremely protective of their young, so a dog anywhere in the vicinity of that calf can spark an aggressive encounter that may be fatal, and could include the human being as well as the dog.

Wildlife deserves your respect and your consideration in sharing the habitat we all call home. Ultimately, their survival may depend upon you, your cooperation and the very choices you make as you head out into the great outdoors.