OUT Haggerty’s Hikes June 14, 2009

The ethics of watching wildlife

I could view no wildlife. Yet, outside the rain-splattered window of my pickup, I spied a wildlife sign featuring colorful wildlife artwork. The sign depicted bighorn sheep, a mountain lion and a peregrine falcon, nestled into the natural scenery of the canyonlands area south of the Colorado River.

The sign reminded visitors they were sharing this beautiful landscape with wildlife and to respect them and their home.

It reminded me I hadn’t written a column on the ethics of watching wildlife for years, and since I was stuck inside the truck because of the rain, it also reminded me a deadline loomed for this week’s hiking column and I wasn’t getting it done just sitting there.

I braved the weather and hiked a few feet over to that sign, then scribbled a few notes.

“Keep your distance — this is their home. If wild animals stare at you or move away, you’re too close.”

Then, I headed back to Grand Junction and to my home computer to complete the thought.

Nearly all wildlife is “watchable wildlife,” if you have the patience. Nearly everyone who ventures into the great Colorado outdoors is a watchable wildlife enthusiast. That is, after all, one of the many perks of going on these great hikes.

According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated
Recreation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 1.82 million watchable wildlife recreationists in Colorado that year.

Now, a bunch of them simply watch from their own backyards — or within a mile of home.

Yet, this survey, done every five years, showed that 873,000 watchable wildlife recreationists (residents and nonresidents) participated in “wildlife watching opportunities away from home.” In other words, they went out of their way just to watch wildlife.


The total economic effect from 2006 watchable wildlife recreation in Colorado — which was the last model year — was estimated at $1.387 billion. Total wildlife-associated recreation expenditures in Colorado amounted to $3 billion in 2006.

But, as the colorful wildlife sign reminded me, we should think about the “ethics” of watching wildlife from time to time, especially when there are so many of us “watching.”

The Colorado Division of Wildlife lists some common-sense rules for wildlife watching etiquette:

1. Observe animals from a safe distance. Get close by using binoculars, a spotting scope or a camera with a telephoto lens. You probably are too close if animals are looking at you with head up and ears pointed toward you or are “jumpy” when you move or make a noise. If you see these signs, sit quietly or move slowly away until the behavior changes. Be especially sensitive to adults with young.

2. Move slowly and casually, not directly at wildlife. Allow animals to keep you in view; do not surprise them.

3. Never chase or harass wildlife; It’s both unlawful and unethical.

4. Leave pets at home. At best they hinder wildlife watching; at worst they can chase, injure or kill wildlife.

5. Using the animals’ behavior as a guide, limit the time you spend watching if animals appear to be stressed.

6. Respect others who are viewing the same animals.

7. Do not feed wild mammals.

8. Respect private property; ask first to watch on private land.

9. Resting is critical behavior for many animals; don’t encourage them to “do something” for you or your camera.

10. Avoid animals that behave strangely or aggressively. They may be ill.

If you want some suggestions on where and when to watch wildlife, check out, “The Colorado Wildlife Viewing Guide, Second Edition,” written by my friend Mary Taylor Gray.

It talks about plains, mountains, plateaus, valleys, grasslands; elk, beaver, pika, eagles, sheep — the guide offers more than 200 year-round viewing choices. Go to the DOW’s Web site at http://www.wildlife.state.co.us, then click on “viewing.”

When the rain subsides and the trail dries out, I’ll try to check out the Pollock Bench Trail next week, and we’ll see what kind of wildlife we can silently and unobtrusively view!


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