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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Radio collars and wildness

Winter looms on the horizon again, as it should in February. Our Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel is still out of hibernation and eating seeds under our bird feeder but I suspect he'll be snuggled into his den soon.

Today's ride started warm and sunny but gradually became colder and cloudier. K and I saw my husband running with R near Hug Hill, the highest point in our area. R panted in the sun's warmth and K's eye reflected the sun's light. Seeing R run with no limp whatsoever warms my heart. He had surgery for elbow dysplasia in late October. We didn't dare dream that he'd run so beautifully so soon.

Close to the place where I found three lion scats within the past week (Feb 1, Feb 3), I passed a truck stopped near a trailhead, and the driver was focused on a receiver for radio signals. In the past, I've seen this type of device used by Division of Wildlife officials to track mountain lions wearing radio collars. I returned to the trailhead about a half hour later. To my dismay, the truck was still there, and the driver was still intently focused on his electronic device. That suggested to me that he was getting a signal from a nearby cat.

In our area, the Division of Wildlife has been capturing mountain lions and fitting them with radio collars. At first, it seemed like a great scientific opportunity to learn about lion behavior. However, after reading about radio-collared wolves outside Yellowstone Park (Ralph Maughan's Wildlife News), I now believe that radio-collaring an animal takes away its wildness. Federal agencies use the radio collars on wolves to track them and kill them if they're suspected of any wrongdoing outside Yellowstone Park.

I can imagine something similar happening in my area - although it's a remote possibility. Lions kill pet animals on a regular basis - they killed two dogs in Boulder in January. Sometimes, after killings, people write letters to the editor of the local newspaper saying that we should track down and kill every last lion. Their justification is that it's crazy to allow animals who can kill us to live in our midst. The existence of that extreme view makes me leery of radio-collaring predators. It means that we can find them and kill them whenever we please. That, by definition, takes away their wildness and an important aspect of our wilderness.

As I rode home, I continued my usual scanning for animals - but didn't see any large animals, only small ones. The Stellar Jays, Robins, Mountain Chickadees, Nuthatchs, and Woodpeckers were in a frenzy of activity - perhaps getting ready for the return of colder weather. The cacaphony of chirping and alarm calls heralding my passage through the forest reminded me of spring or summer. However, glancing at the horizon told me that winter looms.

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