By Scott Prater
Like many of Schriever’s fitness-oriented members, Col. John Shaw, 50th Operations Group commander, often runs the base perimeter. During the early morning hours the path offers runners serenity, a cool climate and of course the chance to experience much of the base’s natural habitat.
One morning earlier this month, Shaw unexpectedly strode up upon an badger as he rounded a corner near the northeast side of the base.
“Normally, they’re hard to catch in the open, but I approached this one from downwind and caught him looking the wrong way,” he said.
The episode ended without incident as Shaw wisely gave the animal a wide berth, but his meeting brings attention to what has become a concern for many who exercise on the far reaches of the base. Schrieverites share this landscape with a wide variety of wildlife, from foragers like prairie dogs, weasels and jack rabbits to predators, like coyotes, rattlesnakes and hawks.
The ecology of the base is changing, according to Andy Jensen, Schriever’s natural resource program manager. He says the best rule of thumb for someone who encounters a predator is to avoid the animal.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, coyotes and other predators will run away from you,” he said. “We’re unique out here in that we’re far enough out on the prairie to where coyotes are skittish, unlike the in-town coyotes. That said, we do hear stories of coyotes running off with house pets. Also, in winter time, when they have a winter coat, they get to be pretty big. Simply put, they scare people.”
Tierra Vista Communities administrators do caution housing residents not to leave their pets unattended outdoors for this reason alone.
Rob Ladewig, a contractor for the Missile Defense Agency and an avid triathlon competitor, runs the base perimeter quite often and has seen his share of coyotes and rattlesnakes.
“I saw one crouched off the trail some 60 feet from me and wondered where his friends were,” Ladewig said. “In my rattlesnake encounter I happened to come upon one who was warming himself in the early-morning sun. I simply watched from a distance, then went around and continued on my run.”
Shaw noticed the coyotes here tend to be a bit more bold when accompanied by other coyotes.
“They stand their ground for awhile and bark their annoyance at our presence,” he said.
Jensen figures we’re seeing more predators lately because they follow the food sources, but that becoming alarmed and making rash decisions about trying to control their numbers could produce the opposite effect.
“The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog population on base is growing and predators are simply gravitating toward the meal,” he said. “Really though, coyotes and other predators are not a problem here. I’ve even seen studies which suggest that shooting coyotes actually creates a vacuum. Since they are territorial, if you kill a coyote it opens the door for a lot more to come in.”
As for rattlesnakes, Jensen relayed the story of a local female runner who had her dog vaccinated for rattlesnake venom because she takes the dog along for runs around the perimeter.
“I don’t know if that’s a necessary precaution, but it’s a relatively cheap shot and it works well,” he said. “I had my dog vaccinated for rattlesnakes when I lived in Texas.”
Overall, Jensen explained that avoidance of snakes in the open areas of base is the best practice, but if encountered in populated areas, people should call the 50th Civil Engineering Environmental office 567-3360 or 50 CE customer service 567-2300. 50 CE does have personnel who are experienced at capturing and removing rattlesnakes. If residents encounter a snake in the housing area they should call Tierra Vista Communities for assistance at 683-3660.
“The fortunate thing about rattlesnakes is they have an early-warning system,” Jensen said. “There are not many poisonous snakes out there that warn you to stay away from them.”