“When we visit a national park or wilderness, we need to remember we are visiting someone else’s home. If some strange creature came into your home, tried to touch you or give you strange food, what would you think? What would your mother think? What would your mother do?
That’s how the wildlife that make Rocky Mountain National Park feel about us, when more than 3 million people come to visit here each year. This is their home, and we are the house guests. Nobody likes a rude house guest. We need to remember to be good house guests, by not trying to feed wildlife, not getting too close to babies, and not approaching wildlife. Enjoy the wonder of seeing a moose, a bear, an elk, but in a way that shows respect for their home.”
These are the words I spoke to a young group of children who had just gone on my Junior Ranger program at Rocky Mountain National Park and were about to be “inducted” as Junior Rangers. As a Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, I loved leading the Junior Ranger Program for kids. Kids speak a simpler language and are unfailingly honest about what they see and believe. They also experience the magic of nature and wildlife in a way that makes me remember being a kid all over again.
During my last summer at Rocky, I did a program on the hoofed mammals of the park — the deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. I think I enjoyed the program as much as the kids, as we searched for scat, hopped around like elk and put our antlers up.
At the end of every program, we try to instill a “take-home” message for kids — a message of stewardship that they would take away from the program that might influence the way they behave and think about national parks and wilderness.
I reflected on the message of “being good house guests” this past week as a number of neighbors told me of wildlife they had seen in the area. As we enter the summer months, and mothers have given birth to their young, more and more wild animals appear as regular residents nearby.
One neighbor mentioned seeing a bear on his property and how he is going to get rubber bullets to shoot at him, to “haze” him, so he will leave. But my question is — leave for where?
As more and more people in Colorado decide to build up in the mountains, we take away habitat for wildlife. And then we act indignant when we see a moose in the neighborhood forces us to put our dogs on leash, or a bear takes up residence on our property as he scavenges the wild rose hips that grow there.
The elk, deer, moose, coyote, fox, bobcat, bear and mountain lion have made their home for hundreds of years, well before we decided to make a home here. And yet, we as people expect they should leave, they should adjust, they should go somewhere else to make their home, so we can feel more comfortable.
News flash — we’re the house guest. Being a good house guest is that we are as unintrusive as possible — and that might mean, leashing our dogs, putting away our hummingbird feeders, keeping our trash inside until we take it to the transfer station.
Seeing wildlife on a regular basis is what makes the Colorado Rocky Mountains special to me. If I have to adjust to insure their habitat and survival continues, I’m willing to make that compromise. Hopefully you are too.