Bobcat Patrol: Staying alert, aware, informed among wild animals at Fort Irwin

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The normally-elusive bobcat is making itself at home on Fort Irwin’s Garrison, where human activity provides many opportunities for easy living for this desert carnivore.  People establish irrigation systems, install grassy lawns, trees and shrubs and erect buildings and other structures to avoid the harsh, unforgiving environment of the Mojave Desert, one of the driest places in the nation.

Right alongside our desire for creature comforts, are the creatures themselves.  Just like we do, many desert animals seek out relief from the sun, heat and dry, brittle vegetation of summer, as well as the cutting cold and wind of winter.  With no fences or barriers to keep animals such as coyote, bobcat and wild donkeys out, it’s not surprising that desert wildlife are attracted to the oasis of the Garrison.

The challenge becomes, how do we safely co-exist with wild animals in close proximity?  Fortunately, there are solutions.

Among the most effective strategies for living peacefully alongside desert wildlife are education, awareness and planning.  Wild animals are here to stay and although trapping and removal of a rare individual is sometimes necessary if it poses a serious threat to humans, pets or property, removal of one animal will often result in the arrival of two or three more to take its place.  This is due to a variety of biotic factors having to do with territoriality and defense of resources.  When one individual finds a highly suitable place to live where food and shelter are abundant, it does not easily give up this space and will typically defend the area, warding off would-be challengers to their valuable territory.  With the exception of the rare individual which turns “rogue” and begins to make a habit of preying on domestic pets, the vast majority of these animals continue to make a living on the abundant prey species here.

The favored prey of coyote and bobcat are desert cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, mice, rats and squirrels.  These prey species are also attracted to Garrison by the resources mentioned earlier, forming unusually large, dense populations that in turn, attract the predators here.  This is where public education and awareness come into play.  Through multiple media outlets, the DPW and PAO attempt to maintain a steady flow of alerts and recommendations regarding seasonal wildlife activity and movements.  The Fort Irwin public can also contact DPW – Environmental at any time for a status on various wildlife populations and actions they can take to keep their human and animal families safe from an unpleasant encounter with local wildlife.  While most people are interested in and appreciative of the wildlife that wanders the area, many people that come to Fort Irwin are unfamiliar with the sometimes close proximity of wild animals to their living and working environments here.  It can be unnerving to see a relatively large predator such as a bobcat or coyote nonchalantly walking through town and even sniffing around their backyards.  The best course of action is to observe but not approach these animals and supervise pets closely (particularly small dogs and cats) when outdoors.

Do not provide any incentive for these predators to approach you or your home: 

• Never leave human or pet food outdoors

• Store garbage cans inside the garage or equipped with tight-fitting lids whenever they are left outdoors

• Clean outdoor barbecues well after use and store inside a garage or shed

• Avoid leaving pets outdoors for any length of time

• If you must leave pets outside for an extended period, invest in a covered kennel equipped with a shelter or doghouse

The facts of life at Fort Irwin include the possibility of an encounter of the wild kind but it need not be a negative experience. By educating yourself and your neighbors, asking questions of the DPW wildlife biologist, and preparing your home and family properly, your time at Fort Irwin will be a pleasant and rewarding experience.  DPW Environmental can be reached at 760-267-8512 or at Bldg. 602 on Fifth Street and Barstow during regular business hours.  Status of local wildlife issues can also be viewed at the Fort Irwin Natural Resources Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/IrwinWildlife/

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