When Nature Bites Back

That was the headline of a book review I wrote years ago about Boulder, Colorado being stalked by mountain lions. When I briefly lived there in the late 2000s, some of the natives (okay, they were my colleagues) sniggered at my histrionic fears.

Now it looks like the wildlife in Boulder is getting even peskier. Check out this hilarious dispatch from Jonathan Thompson, a former editor of mine at High Country News. He shares some of his recent encounters, such as this one:

A couple of weeks after I arrived in Boulder, I was riding down a path when I turned a corner and the path appeared to be covered by a beige, many-headed, writhing monster, forcing me to lock up my brakes. The monster turned out to be a pack of prairie dogs that had taken up residence on either side of path. Later, when I mentioned the incident to acquaintance, she asked: “Are you for the prairie dogs? Or against them?” Wildlife politics in Boulder are often much more dangerous than the wildlife itself. Boulder prohibits the killing of the prevalent prairie dogs sans permit, yet some of them have been known to carry the plague (a serious downer for a Boulder fitness regime). So, some folks want them relocated; others say no. It’s a heated, sometimes just weird, (even weirder) debate. I don’t think the fact that Boulder’s prairie dogs will be the subject of a climate change study will ease the tension.

I’m telling you, even the big alpha rats in New York City, my natural habitat, know their place in the pecking order. I miss Boulder dearly, but the people there are in danger of loving their cutesy nature a little too much.

17 Responses to “When Nature Bites Back”

  1. EdG says:

    “Boulder’s prairie dogs will be the subject of a climate change study

    Yet another example of the convenient relationship between the practioners of ‘Conservation Biology’ and AGW Climastrology – best known in the case of the polar bear.

    Vast sums spent on the CB industry on these ‘climate change’ studiies. Just adding that angle to any research proposal now maximizes the chances that funding will flow. And will continue to flow if the researchers find some link – so they almost always do.

    Biggest laugh of late is the stories of the pika doomed by climate changef the pika

    Yes, how did the prairie dogs ever survive the Altithermal?

    To your point Keith, this is also another fine example of the warped TV-fed view of Nature. Blessed are the cute, and ignore all else. Best example of this is the suburban love of Bambi, where in the NE the all time high pop of whitetailed deer is demolishing habitat and the sentimental folk still scream about any attempts to cull their population… and of course, hate hunters.

    P.S. Don’t think the plague is much of a real concern as several widespread species carry it. But when somebody takes a tumble on their bike from running over one of them, things will get wierd. I can almost hear the Bambi crowd now: But, but… you were riding in their habitat so it is your fault.  

  2. Mary says:

    Yeah. Seen that perspective. I think it’s part of why I butt heads with a lot of people who think nature is all fuzzy and makes coo-ing noises.
    An undergraduate degree in microbiology ensured I wouldn’t fall for that. But I don’t think we can expect that for everyone.

  3. Ian says:

    Geez Mary you’re not wrong! Try spending a night in the Australian bush: Snakes as big as yer Landcruiser and highly venomous, other’s the size of your pinky and twice as deadly, kangaroos that unsip your tent and pound you into oblivion, crocodiles that swallow you, the tent and the aforementioned Landcruiser in one tiny nibble…don’t get me started on the drop bears that fall outa trees onto your head… 

  4. Ian says:

    Oh, and the spiders…

  5. Mary says:

    @Ian: a semester of infectious disease slides has nothing on that. Heh. First college class I was in where the teacher showed so much genitalia…. ewwwww
    The tapeworms were also rather stunning. Sometimes bigger than the genitalia. ewwwww<sup>2</sup>

  6. EdG says:

    The South Park episode about ‘Saving The Rainforest’ comes to mind…

  7. TerryMN says:

    @6 – As does a PSA done by my local radio station for the great northwestern ferret bat 🙂


  8. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Mountain lions in Boulder: In the early 90s I was living on Lehigh St. in Boulder (basically right up against the front range, near NCAR) and one fall a neighbor left the thorax of a deer, with a fair bit of meat still on it, in his front yard. One day, my son said that early that morning, when he was walking to school, he saw a mountain lion picking at the bones. My neighbors dismissed this, saying that there’s no way a mountain lion would come down out of the hills, but reluctantly acknowledged that leaving raw meat in his yard might not have been the most prudent or neighborly thing to do.

  9. EdG says:

    Re # 8 – There is a clear trend of more mt lions showing up in suburbia in the West, for two simple reasons:

    – growing (or exploding) deer populations in suburbia due to people loving Bambi and the general anti-hunting mentality, which creates relatively safe predator-free areas for deer… until the predators catch on.

    – growing (or exploding) mt lion populations due to very restricted or no mt lion hunting, compounded by a very high level of tolerance for them when they do show up around suburbia. This tolerance allows mt lions to learn that they can hunt in these areas.

    In the past any mt lion that ever got close to suburbia was eliminated; most were eliminated long before they got that close. (Same for bears; see New Jersey as a classic case of this effect for black bears.)

    So this whole scenario is a product of a successful conservation effort and positive human attitudes – creating mt lion and deer pop growth – which has been taken to irrational extremes.

    Of course, the usual dumbgreen line on this is that suburbia is spreading into mt lion or deer habitat. That is theoretically true in most cases and actually true in some cases but usually historically false. In the case of Boulder, when was the last time there were cougars where these suburbs now are? Or when was there EVER as many deer as there are now? History never recorded the supposed ‘pristine’ baseline wildlife populations – and their ubiquitous abundance – that are the foundation of dumbgreen mythology.

  10. Keith Kloor says:


    If you avoided generalizing and needlessly disparaging (“the usual dumbgreen line”), I think you’d be more effective and persuasive. Everything you say in #9 makes sense, but these attitudinal trends you point to are culture-wide and not due to some supposed green philosophy.

  11. EdG says:

    Keith – Sorry but can’t think of a more apt term than ‘dumbgreen.’ So I just made it up. It is the positive ‘green’ attitude combined with dumb Disney sentimentalism, which creates a dumbed down and false fairy tale view of Nature.

    I have had to deal with this mindset in my past career. It has become more of an obstacle to rational conservation efforts by the day. 

    I’m not really trying to presuade anyone of anything here. Just add some thoughts to the mix… and, as you know, I tend to be a little too blunt when I do that.

    So, what would be a better term than ‘dumbgreen’? Disney-brained?

  12. Keith Kloor says:

    Yes, Disney-fied or Disny-brained would certainly be apt.

  13. EdG says:

    OK. But Disney Corp might get mad.

  14. lucia says:

    I don’t know how I feel about prarie dogs, but I was forced to read “La Peste” in high school, and I’m against Black Plague.

  15. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @EdG, #9.  I completely support hunting, both as recreation and as a means to control animal populations. Most hunters and fishers I know are very concerned about protecting the environment—more so than most non-hunters/fishers—because game and fish need functioning habitats; and further, they want to keep those habitats clean enough that it’s safe to eat what they kill.

    But I wonder whether you intended the irony of ranting about anti-hunting sentiment in response to a comment that described a hunter (an atypically irresponsible one) leaving a big piece of a deer carcass on his suburban lawn, where he seemed oblivious to the fact that it would function as bait to large predators.

  16. EdG says:

    #14 – lucia – If you are feeling paranoid about the plague you need to worry about several species, including the Columbian groundsquirrel… which is often fed by people in parks yet nobody ever seems to catch anything.

  17. EdG says:

    #15 – If you consider that “ranting about anti-hunting sentiment” then you must live a very sheltered life. It was an observation of an obvious fact. It was intended to explain why some old ideas – e.g. mt lions, wolves, bears do not come near people – are now obsolete.

    That said, I agree that that person who left part of a deer carcass in their yard was totally irresponsible. What was he expecting would happen??? If not a cougar, that all the local dogs or coyotes or magpies would eat it? Or that it would just rot? Such actions only increase the anti-hunter mentality.

    It is also notable that the mt lion was scavenging it. That is not typical behavior and, combined with its location, that suggests it was a desperate young mt lion, the kind that typically do show up in such places these days. That cohort is always exploring the edges of population areas, and populations are increasing. 

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