Elk. They are one reason many people move to the Rim Country. They love to see them and many like to feed them to draw them in for daily interactions.
That could change if Gila County adopts a new ordinance.
Currently, there is a state statute restricting wildlife feeding in areas where the population is 280,000 or greater. Since it is unlikely Gila County will ever have a population of that size, state law does not apply.
To address bears coming into populated areas, in 2001, the county adopted an ordinance to restrict feeding and attracting bears in unincorporated areas for public safety.
At a recent BOS meeting, concerned residents spoke about the increasing amount of dangerous human/wildlife interactions in northern Gila County, especially with elk. Arizona Game and Fish and Gila County Health and Animal Care departments recently reviewed the concerns.
Research shows the most reported interactions throughout the county were in 2019, with 294 incidents; with 287 in 2018 and 236 in 2021.
Most were in the Payson and Pine areas. Between 2015 and 2021, there were 750 reported interactions in Payson, with the most, 167, taking place in 2019; 136 in 2021 and 135 in 2018. Pine had 381 reported interactions, with 112 in 2018 and 73 in 2019.
The BOS heard of dangerous encounters: 2017, Payson, javelina bite; 2018, Payson, elk attack, individual let calf out of yard and cow elk trampled them; 2020, Pine, elk attacked; 2021, Pine, elk attacked individual hand-feeding it; 2022, Payson, bull elk in Rumsey Park, charged a mother and her children, no injuries; Pine, elk attacked a 9-year-old girl who came upon a calf behind a family garage; Pine, elk attack, husband and wife walking dog, all were injured by cow elk.
According to the report presented to the BOS, persistent feeding and watering of wildlife is habituating these wild animals into communities where they are losing their natural fear of humans, which leads to more wildlife-human conflicts.
The problem is compounded as habituated wildlife are raising their offspring within these areas and the young are not only being taught the same things but also never leaving the area and continuing the cycle.
The increased number of elk and deer within populated areas also increases the chances of larger predatory wildlife interactions, especially during fawning and calving season. It also increases the chance of aggressive behavior during mating season. Additionally, wildlife and human interaction could result in more rabies and other diseases, according to a staff report.
Staff suggested the issue could use more public education and an ordinance.
Tim Humphrey, District 2 supervisor, said an ordinance is needed. He was especially concerned about the deer and elk population bringing predators into communities.
Steve Christensen, District 1 supervisor, also supported an ordinance, but said it would be difficult to enforce. He added there are entire herds living in communities in northern Gila County.
Josh Beck, with emergency management, said an ordinance would give his staff and that of animal care and control the opportunity to go speak to people to educate them.
Woody Cline, District 3 supervisor and chair of the BOS, said the wildlife is in the communities and it will be hard to get rid of it. “We’re way past due for doing something,” he said.
No action was taken.