At long last, the winter of seemingly endless discontent along the Front Range has finally become glorious spring, which will gloriously bring — armies of pestilence, nuisance and worry.
Sorry. Aurora and the metroplex do not live in a vacuum or a movie set. The longer days, warmer nights and stunning blue skies are just as alluring for throngs of mosquitoes, poisonous and harmless snakes, choking smog and plague-infested rodents who could totally ruin your summer.
Local wildlife experts frequently point out that as Front Range dwellers continue to move further out onto the plains, those native plains residents are increasingly finding their way into area neighborhoods. Deer crossing in central Aurora and dogs eaten by coyotes along the Denver Highline become more like weather reports and less like urban oddities.
Here’s a smattering of what’s on the metro horizon for denizens as everything reawakens from Colorado’s long, cold winter.
Analyzing Aurora’s animal armies
As the mercury continues to rise throughout the metroplex this spring, so too do reports of Colorado residents interacting with the state’s stirring fauna.
Rattlesnakes, deer, prairie dogs, bugs, raccoons and skunks are just a few of the species residents should look out for as the days grow longer in 2019, according to city and state officials.
“With the warmer months coming, Aurora’s natural wildlife may be out and about,” city spokeswoman Erin O’Neil wrote in an email. “These include coyotes, rattlesnakes, cottontails, red foxes … geese, bats, woodpeckers, eagles, beavers, pronghorn and more.”
O’Neil said residents thinking of hitting city and parks and trails should stay on paths and ensure pets are leashed so they don’t have any unexpected interactions with Colorado critters.
Jason Clay, spokesman for the northeast region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, discouraged local outdoorsmen from recreating with earbuds so they can more acutely monitor their surroundings.
“Rattlesnakes will be coming out and about, so you don’t want to have earbuds in so you can hear warning signs like that rattle,” he said.
But fatal rattlesnake bites are rare in Colorado, where only one person has died after being bitten in the past 100 years, according to a reported published in the Mountain Town News. Still, there are usually a few deaths linked to rattlesnake bites in the U.S. each year.
Clay also encouraged Aurorans who plan on venturing into the suburban jungle to make sure their pooch’s vaccinations are up-to-date. He said CPW noted several confirmed cases of canine distemper in raccoon carcasses found in Adams County earlier this year. The disease, which can be fatal is left untreated in un-vaccinated animals, is different from rabies but spurs similar symptoms. Dogs that catch the disease can get runny eyes and noses, a cough and diarrhea, Clay said.
Just as with animals suspected of having rabies, Clay urged residents to avoid animals that are exhibiting peculiar behavior. He also discouraged Aurorans from touching or picking up dead carcasses, especially those of raccoons given the recent cases.
“Along with that, teaching kids not to touch any wildlife is super important,” he said. “People should also avoid keeping water and food bowls outside to avoid possible contamination.”
Foxes and skunks can contract and spread the distemper disease, too, Clay said.
But homeowners experiencing problems with smaller beasties may be out of luck: The city does not remove wildlife from private property, according to the city website. People having trouble with pests or vermin at their owned home are encouraged to contact a private exterminator.
Clay said Aurorans having problems with bees should reach out to local beekeepers, who will often volunteer to remove the flying buzzers for free.
“There are numerous local beekeepers would love to come out and take care of that for you,” he said.
Clay said people experiencing difficulties with emerald ash borers should call the Department of Agriculture for assistance.
Anyone having trouble with Japanese beetles or gypsies moths should call CPW at 303-297-1192.
Residents who encounter dead small animals on city roads or sidewalks, or who wish to report on a situation involving a dangerous animal that isn’t an emergency, can call the city at 303-739-700. People who have been attacked by an animal, or encounter a dangerous animal at-large, can call Animal Protection Dispatch at 303-326-8288. Press option six.
Animal sightings can be reported to [email protected]
Rejoice. Warmer days mean lounging by the pool. Those days are almost here.
Mosquitoes feel the same way. Standing water can be a breeding ground for the agitating little blood suckers. More water. More mosquitoes.
That can also mean the potential for more West Nile Virus cases. Researchers estimate that less than 1 percent of people who are infected with the disease, typically through mosquito bites, become severely ill. But it can happen.
The symptoms of the severe infection formally known as West Nile encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain, include fever, neck stiffness, headache and muscle weakness. The virus can land a person in the hospital, but most cases are mild and pass on their own. Symptoms generally appear three to 14 days after exposure.
Still, local and state health officials recommend that people take precautions to ward off possible disease. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants in the early morning and evenings when mosquitoes are most active can prevent being bitten. It’s also best to drain any standing water on your property, as pools can become an ideal breeding ground for the insects. In standing water, mosquitoes can lay up to 250 eggs, which typically take about two weeks to hatch.
Last year, there were eight confirmed cases of West Nile in Adams and Arapahoe counties. Larimer County saw the most cases, with 17 confirmed by the end of 2018. Positive mosquito specimens are typically more common in the northern portion of the state.
Not-so-fun fact: Spring is typically a bad season for rabid skunks in Colorado. There were more than 80 confirmed cases in March 2018. The state health department confirmed 234 cases of rabid skunks for the entire year.
Skunks make up the bulk of rabies reports each year. Bats follow. There were 78 confirmed cases last year. In the mix are a few others: Douglas County saw one rabid alpaca, Pueblo experienced one rabid dog and there was a rabid coyote in Larimer County.
There were only seven confirmed cases of rabies in Arapahoe and Adams counties last year, but warmer months tend to spike the number of calls wildlife officials get about suspected cases of rabies.
“The disease often spreads to other wildlife and pets, making human exposure a real concern,” the state health department writes on its website. “Because skunks live on the ground, humans and animals are much more likely to come into contact with them. Skunks may seek shelter and food where pets and livestock live, making contact more likely.”
Once rabies symptoms show up in humans, the disease is usually fatal.
“People, pets and livestock can get rabies from animal bites or, rarely, from infected saliva getting into their eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound. Brain tissue can also be infectious and should not be handled,” the department advises.
If you spot weird behavior in animals, that can be a clue that they may have contracted rabies. Rabid animals typically show signs that seem odd for an animal, like being overly aggressive or overly tame. They also may show physical signs of the disease such as staggering, and bats may not be able to fly.
“Sometimes, rabid animals do not show any signs of illness before death from rabies. If a wild animal does not run away when you approach it, it may be sick or injured. Do not try to help it,” the health department advises.
Vaccinating pets and livestock is the best way to prevent them from contracting rabies.
If you suspect an animal is rabid, contact the local health department as soon as possible. In Aurora, that number is 303-220-9200.
Sunny skies mean air pollution
Aurorans welcome warmer weather and hotter summers, especially after a tumultuous winter that pummeled the Front Range with blizzards. But when Aurorans and Denverites head for the hills to hike big mountains and raft roaring rivers, they’ll quickly be reminded of the pollution choking the Front Range after descending from their weekend sojourns.
“We live in Colorado. We love spending time outdoors, and ozone and fine particulate (pollution) can make that experience not as pleasant or beneficial as it should be,” said Scott Landes, supervisor of meteorology and the prescribed fire unit at the state Air Quality Control Commission.
This year, it’s been more common to see the notorious brown cloud that plagued Denver decades ago.
Even before that, though, air in and above the Denver metro has been notably polluted – and deadly. Last year, the American Lung Association declared Denver the 14th-most ozone-polluted city in the U.S. and noted concerning levels of dust and soot pollution.
The ALA notes that pollution is more than just smelly or unsightly: Pollution including ground-level ozone, created by cars, lawnmowers and oil and gas drilling around Denver, can exacerbate asthma and other lung afflictions.
The nasty stuff is made when fossil fuel emissions interact with sunlight, making every summer a ripe time for fomenting potentially dangerous pollution.
A 2016 study by Environmental Protection Agency researchers found asthmatic Americans are at a higher risk for harm from ozone, and that an increasing number of patients are children. Affects include more asthma attacks and lung failure. The ALA also notes strong scientific evidence that heavy exposure to ozone can even lead to premature death.
These maladies, coupled with the smelly and altogether gross clouds of pollution hanging over the Denver metro, should be enough cause to worry every summer.
Plus, smoke from Western U.S. wildfires is also more common in summer months now, as more and more acres burn in disastrous fires. Two of the worst fire seasons ever were in the last five years, fueled by droughts, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.
That can leave Colorado and the Front Range drowning in acrid air as weather systems move wildfire smoke west — and like industrial pollution, inhalation can be dangerous for people with respiratory and heart diseases, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Initially, dust and soot irritate lungs, but after a few days, the smoke begins to create ozone itself.
It’s not pretty. But how will pollution this summer shape up to previous years?
Landes, the state air quality supervisor, said wildfire risk in the Southwest U.S. is reduced because of heavy snowfall this winter and a weak El Niño weather pattern that will bring rainy and overcast days into summer.
However, the Pacific Northwest is at an increased risk for wildfires this year, Landes said, possibly producing smoke and fine particulate pollution that will find its way to the Front Range.
Landes is cautiously optimistic about ozone pollution, noting more expected overcast days and rain could protect the Front Range from direct sunlight and ozone production. However, there could be wild cards such as hot weather for several weeks that increase levels, and smoke from northwest wildfires.
In that case, the AQCC recommends that people either reduce fossil fuels emissions or reduce their time being active and outside during the heat of the day.
You may have seen state pollution advisories on metro interstates while sitting on the blazing hot tarmac in gridlock.
On those days, the AQCC will recommend filling up your car’s gas tank at night, avoiding gas-powered lawnmowers and driving less by using mass transit, or staying inside during the day as much as possible and delaying that run in the park until night time, when ozone levels have decreased.
That’s a tall order for kids on summer vacation, or busy weekend warriors.
The best way to stay in the loop, Landes said, is to sign up for AQCC’s daily emails forecasting the next two days of weather conditions on the Front Range.
Your lungs and heart will thank you for it.