PARK CITY, Utah. — Park City’s population growth and building boom are increasing the likelihood of close encounters between people and native wildlife. Education around wildlife is essential to preserving their habitats and minimizing human and wildlife conflicts to safely coexist.
“The more education and awareness that the residents of Park City have, the better chance that that moose can stay and be part of the community,” said Scott Root, the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources outreach manager in the Central Region.
That’s why the DWR partnered with Utah State University and the Hogle Zoo to create Wild Aware Utah, an education program that provides awareness and safety information to minimize conflicts with Utah wildlife. Residents can learn more about the species they may encounter, including moose, rattlesnakes, and elk deer, and how to react to each encounter.
Root described an all-too-common scenario: Imagine there’s a moose on the side of 224, which is evident because there are a dozen cars pulled over. Everyone has their phones out taking photos, and someone wants a perfect shot. As they inch closer, they hit a fine line between safe and dangerous. Many Park City residents can picture the wildlife encounter Root described because they’ve seen it themselves.
“What people don’t realize, because a moose seems so slow and they don’t move that much, is that they’re actually quicker than the fastest human being in the world when they run.” Root said. “So we cannot outrun a moose.”
That’s why keeping your distance is the number one rule, Root said. Education for residents and newcomers is the best way moose sightings won’t become a thing of Park City’s past.
“We will have more and more and more people moving to Park City. And that means there will probably be a little less and less and less habitat for wildlife as we have more urban sprawl up into the mountains and that type of thing and more building,” Root said. “We can’t point fingers and get angry at everybody because we’ve got to have places to live. I just think education is the key.”
As Utah continues to be a popular place for people to move to, wildlife and humans will have to compete for space. The program Wild Aware Utah helps to awareness throughout Utah that will foster new attitudes towards wildlife and motivate behavior changes in people, resulting in minimizing conflicts with Utah wildlife.
Root is hopeful about the future of wildlife despite the neverending community growth.
“There’s a lot of positives projects out there,” he said. “The forest service, BLM, and other agencies are doing some wonderful habitat improvements. There’s a lot of good out there that will help our wildlife. But as we get more and more people, it becomes a challenge, and I won’t be totally negative, but we have challenges.”
Residents who encounter a conflict with wildlife that poses an immediate danger should call the DWR for help.