With the onset of spring in full swing across Utah, a new generation of wildlife is beginning to emerge throughout the state. Whether it be ducks and geese at a nearby pond, or deer and elk in the foothills, young wildlife are all around the residents of Utah. This spring the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is asking the public to refrain from handling or approaching young wildlife, and to enjoy their presence from a distance.
Spring is a great time of year to explore Utah's back country. A landscape long covered by snow gives way to lush green meadows, tree crowns filling out with new leaves, and wildlife everywhere giving birth to a new generation of young. This is also the time of year when people come into contact with young wildlife. During such encounters caution should be exercised to avoid causing harm.
"All too often people come across a fawn or calf left alone, and they think it has been abandoned," reports Joe Nicholson, a Conservation Officer in the Moab area. "An individual with good intentions might think they are helping such a fawn of calf by taking it home or to a UDWR office, but this is the worst thing you can do."
"One of the most critical times for a young deer or elk is the first few days after birth when they lack mobility," says Nicholson. "At birth deer and elk are scentless and have a spotted pattern across their body. These two attributes are important to preventing detection by predators such as coyotes, mountain lions and black bears. During this time, it's not uncommon for mothers to stay a considerable distance away from newborn, visiting them only to nurse a couple times each day. After the first week of life young deer and elk are mobile enough to accompany their mothers; and by the time they start reaching 2 weeks age, they can outrun and outmaneuver the fastest person."
"Usually when someone happens upon a fawn or calf which they believe it to be orphaned, this is not the true case," explains Nicholson. "The mother is almost always close-by, often watching from a distance without you realizing it. The best thing you can do in this situation is exercise a hands-off approach and leave the area without touching or further approaching the animal." True cases of abandoned wildlife are extremely rare, but if you know the mother has been killed (hit by a vehicle, for example) you should report it to a local UDWR office or Conservation Officer.
The same "hands-off" approach applies for other wildlife species as well. In spring its not uncommon for people to find baby birds that have fallen from their nests. Sometimes this is the result of inclement weather conditions or accidental mishaps on the part of the young bird. If this is obviously the case, and you can safely put the bird back in the nest, its OK to do so. Any scent you leave behind will not deter the mother from caring for the young bird. However, many times the young bird is just exercising its first inclinations to fly. When young birds are learning to fly, they often spend time on the ground before perfecting the use of their wings. During this time the best thing you can do is leave them alone and observe from a distance.
Nicholson also reminds pet owners the importance of pet control. "One of the best things you can do for young wildlife in the spring is keep your pets restrained or indoors." Pet cats kill countless birds and young mammals each year, significantly impacting local populations of some species. Every year UDWR Officers also respond to numerous reports of dogs chasing and killing deer and other wildlife. "Many people don't realize they can be held legally liable for the actions of pet dogs found pursuing, harassing, capturing, or killing wildlife in Utah. It is your responsibility to exercise reasonable preventative measures to stop your pets from harming wildlife," advises Nicholson.
Watching wildlife in the spring is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Whether you're watching robins raise a nest of chicks in your backyard or venturing afield and coming across a calf elk, you can help protect Utah's young wildlife this spring by watching from a distance.