As human populations continue to expand across the world, the need to understand and manage wildlife populations within the wildland–urban interface is becoming commonplace. This is especially true for large carnivores as these species are not always tolerated by the public and can pose a risk to human safety. Unfortunately, information on wildlife species within the wildland–urban interface is sparse, and knowledge from wildland ecosystems does not always translate well to human-dominated systems. Across western North America, cougars (Puma concolor) are routinely utilizing wildland–urban habitats while human use of these areas for homes and recreation is increasing. From 2007 to 2015, we studied cougar resource selection, human–cougar interaction, and cougar conflict management within the wildland–urban landscape of the northern Front Range in Colorado, USA. Resource selection of cougars within this landscape was typical of cougars in more remote settings but cougar interactions with humans tended to occur in locations cougars typically selected against, especially those in proximity to human structures. Within higher housing density areas, 83% of cougar use occurred at night, suggesting cougars generally avoided human activity by partitioning time. Only 24% of monitored cougars were reported for some type of conflict behavior but 39% of cougars sampled during feeding site investigations of GPS collar data were found to consume domestic prey items. Aversive conditioning was difficult to implement and generally ineffective for altering cougar behaviors but was thought to potentially have long-term benefits of reinforcing fear of humans in cougars within human-dominated areas experiencing little cougar hunting pressure. Cougars are able to exploit wildland–urban landscapes effectively, and conflict is relatively uncommon compared with the proportion of cougar use. Individual characteristics and behaviors of cougars within these areas are highly varied; therefore, conflict management is unique to each situation and should target individual behaviors. The ability of individual cougars to learn to exploit these environments with minimal human–cougar interactions suggests that maintaining older age structures, especially females, and providing a matrix of habitats, including large connected open-space areas, would be beneficial to cougars and effectively reduce the potential for conflict.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation