The do’s and don’ts of wildlife sightings

Nov 28, 2023, 1:41 PM

A moose stands in front of a fence....

FILE: In the winter, moose can end up anywhere, including your back yard. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

SALT LAKE CITY — As some Utah wildlife migrate to lower elevations, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has reminders for wildlife sightings and encounters. 

It’s snowing in Utah’s higher elevations, which means that big game animals are starting to move to lower elevations to find food. As they descend, wildlife sightings and encounters become more common in urban areas. 

And while it’s understandable to want to see these unique animals close up, the DWR said it’s better to keep your distance.   

“If [an animal] feels threatened, it will sometimes act aggressively to protect itself,” said Captain Chad Bettridge of the DWR. 

Bad for humans, and bad for the animals

In addition to jeopardizing human safety, disturbing wildlife can also put the animal in harm’s way. 

Bettridge explained that it’s more difficult for some animals to find food in the winter. Therefore, their bodies store fat reserves to use as energy. Repeated disturbances could cause them to use up these reserves unnecessarily. 

If you see wildlife such as deer or moose, the DWR said to never feed them. 

Feeding animals is not illegal everywhere, but some cities have ordinances prohibiting it. But even if it is legal, giving the animals food is still not a good idea. 

Harm to animals

Firstly, feeding animals can cause harm to them. You could be introducing food into their diets that they are not used to. It can also lead to the spread of disease among them. 

Public safety

Providing food to animals can lead to public safety issues. It can draw the animals back to residential areas or near roadways, increasing the risk of wildlife-related car accidents or animal-human conflicts. 

Introducing bad habits

Bettridge said that when someone feeds wildlife, the animals often return to the area. An influx of wildlife in human-populated areas can lead to more traffic incidents involving animals. In addition, it can lead to more human and wildlife conflicts. 

“While deer and moose are not predators, they are still wild animals and can be aggressive, particularly around dogs,” Bettridge added.  

How to report wildlife sightings

The DWR’s recommendations differ between animals. Generally, if an animal is aggressive or poses a public safety risk, you should contact the DWR

If you only see a cougar once, the DWR said there is no need to report it. “One-time sightings of cougars are typically when the animal is moving through an area,” the DWR said in the release. 

If you spot the animal more than once, or it if has killed something, you should report it. 

If you see a moose in the lower-elevation areas, or in city limits, you should report it. The DWR said that moose will stay in the area. If they are present long-term, they pose a safety risk to humans. They also can damage property. Urban areas are also unsafe for moose. 

Should you see a deer, you only need to report the sighting if it is acting aggressively or if it’s dead. 

Birds of prey

The DWR said that people may also see birds of prey during the winter months. In extension, it is common for them to be on the sides of the road. 

According to the press release “while it may seem like these animals have been injured, typically, they have gorged themselves on roadkill and are unable to fly for a period.” 

Birds of prey only need to be reported if they are at risk of being hit by a car if they haven’t moved for 12 hours or longer, or if they have an obvious injury. 

Wildlife sightings can be reported to the DWR, you should call your local DWR office. Additionally, the DWR said you can report roadkill through the Utah Roadkill Reporter app. 

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The do’s and don’ts of wildlife sightings