Q&A with a CPW district wildlife manager | PostIndependent.com

Q&A with a CPW district wildlife manager

Collin Szewczyk and Jeff CaspersenPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Stroud Post Independent file photo

Post Independent reporters Collin Szewczyk and Jeff Caspersen sat down with Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Dan Cacho recently to inquire about his duties. The 32-year-old Cacho, who lives in West Glenwood, monitors an area of about 900 square miles, in a triangular shape, heading from Glenwood Springs to Dotsero and north to Sweetwater Lake.Cacho’s responsibilities run a wide gamut, from monitoring poacher activity to dealing with problem bears. His eyes displayed a sadness when asked about having to put these bears down – you can see he genuinely cares about local wildlife. It’s not a bear problem, but rather a people problem, he relayed.”We do the best we can,” he said. “We need people to help us out. It’s part of living here.”Q. What is a typical day like for you? A. It changes a lot, but basically anything that has to do with wildlife in our separate districts, we have a hand in. Lately, I’ve been dealing with the fish kill. A lot of times I’ll run up and help the guys that are having the bear issues. This year, it’s been Aspen and Edwards and Avon that have been pretty busy. Even though Glenwood hasn’t been too bad, we’re all still teaming up and trying to get those problem areas and work with the bears there. It’s been pretty tough lately. It seems, the last few years in the summertime, bears do take up a majority of our time. Typically, we’d get up in the high country and do some patrols and stuff. With bear activity, it does hamstring us pretty good and forces us to stay down in the valleys. You know, it really is a people issue. We try to get that message out there, but it’s tough. Until a bear problem really is affecting a family or group or something, people tend not to listen. They think, ‘Oh, it’s not that big a deal.’ People don’t want to pay $200 for a bear-proof container and then the next thing you know, they’re having bear issues. I mean, I can understand why people don’t want to get those containers. It is cost-prohibitive, but when we have to put down these bears, we’re the bad guy. It’s pretty rough. Q. Bear activity is obviously one of those things that really catches people’s attention. We haven’t had many reports. Has there been much activity around Glenwood?A. Glenwood’s been pretty slow this year for bear activity, at least reported. I think they’re around. West Glenwood is still having some activity. I think they’re kind of staying out of trouble. They might be hitting fruit trees, and we’ve gotten a couple reports of that. But it’s nothing like it has been last couple of years. It’s surprising. I thought we were going to have a difficult time with bears.Q. Have you guys had to put down very many bears this year?A. I don’t remember how many we have on the board there, but we keep track of all the bears that we move and all the bears we have to euthanize, but I think we’re over 20 bears in the area that we’ve had to euthanize, so our list is getting pretty long, and we’re not nearly done yet with the summer, so yeah.Q. It seems like there was a frost and a lot of the fruit trees aren’t producing this year? Does that affect the number of bears coming into the area?A. I think that, in different areas, there was a frost, but I think in this area, in Glenwood, we were OK. The berries and stuff aren’t doing so well, and I think that’s just a result of the dry, early summer. Go up Transfer Trail and usually you get a couple thousand feet up, 1,500 feet up, and you start seeing those chokecherries and those serviceberries. Especially right now, they should be loaded, and you go up there and, I mean, in spots, you’ll find them. Where you have a reliable water source, they’re pretty loaded, but you’ll go up into a drier area like that and there’s not much. That typically carries the bears until the fall. When you have the oak nests, the acorns come out and then they feed on those. And those aren’t looking too great, either. Here in about another month or so, the bears go into hyperphagia, where they turn on their eating and go almost nonstop and they require a lot more calories. They’re going to start feeding more heavily, and we’ll see if that heats up our bear activity in Glenwood or not. The fruit trees that everybody has, I mean, it’s people’s right to have fruit trees, but it’s tough to penalize the bears when they come into them when people aren’t picking their fruit or keeping them clean. It’s a tough call to make. Are we going to try to move these bears or what are we going to try to do? I mean, if you’ve got these fruit trees, you’ve got to expect some of that.Q. How did you come into this field?A. I kind of stumbled into it. I’m from Ohio originally. I went to a small liberal arts college back there. I got a degree in biology, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, just like so many other people. I ended up working for the National Parks Service for a little while. I worked up in Yellowstone, and that was great. I did some law enforcement there, but it ultimately wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to focus more on biology, so I moved down to Fort Collins. I was going to go to grad school down there and saw the opening for what was the [Division of Wildlife] at the time. I said, ‘That’s what I’ve got to do.’ I tested the first year, and I really got it handed to me. I had no idea what I was doing. I was just in jeans and a T-shirt and these kids were in there and they had full suit and tie. I got my butt kicked that first year. That whole next year, I studied up. I worked for State Parks for a season and then got on the next year with the division.Q. How long have you been here?A. I’ve been in Glenwood since 2008. I started with the Division in 2005. I worked out on the eastern plains for a little while before I got out here. So it’s worked out really well for me.Q. What do you like best about your job?A. You get those days where, you know, we’ll get to go out on an ATV or something on the Flat Tops or we’ll get to hit the river on the rafts and check fishermen or something like that. Sometimes you just have those moments where you’re the only person around and you’re up in the high country or something and you’re getting paid for that. And it’s just a spectacular moment that you’ll never forget. It’s hard on those days to say, ‘Ah, this is work.’ If you love the outdoors, you really can’t ask for anything better. You’ll have guys come up and say, ‘How’d you get into that?’ And I tell them, and they say, ‘How do you like it?’ and I say, ‘Well, I wouldn’t do anything else.’ You could offer me whatever money and I wouldn’t do it. I’d just stick to what I’m doing, because it is pretty awesome. I’m not ever going to be rich from it, but we live in great place. I just did a cross-country road trip with my fiance, and we got back into the Glenwood Canyon and said, ‘Nothing beats here.’ It’s tough to top this, so we really are spoiled. We just kind of take it for granted from day to day, but we live in a great area. We really do.Q. What about on your days off? Are you a fisherman, a hunter?A. Um, yeah, everything. I love to hunt, love to fish. I’m not good at either of them, but just being out in the backcountry is great. I tried stand-up paddleboarding this year. That was awesome. Just everything the valley has to offer – I’m a skier – just everything, you know. I love doing all of it. That’s why I’m broke. I’ve got so many hobbies living here.Q. Where in Ohio did you go to college?A. Hiram College. It’s a tiny school. I grew up in Cleveland, actually. I was a city boy. And then I just ended up here somehow.Q. Are you a Browns fan?A. You’ve got to be. You really have to be, but they’re horrible. Q. You said you like to go ATVing on the Flat Tops and stuff. How often do you get up and patrol on the Flat Tops?A. We used to do it quite a bit more. Like I said, with bear activity, it really does keep us down in the valleys and stuff. When you’re crawling around a tree with a dart gun trying to get a tranquilizer dart in a bear, that’s not a bad day at work, you know. We kind of get grumbly. You’ve got to deal with bears and things like that, but it’s still an interesting job and not many people get to do it. It’s sad when we do have to put them down. None of us like to do that. That’s the thing that makes a lot of us upset. You run into these people that say we never called because you guys just kill bears. We try not to do that when we can help it, but if you let these calls go and go and go and let the bear activity get worse and worse and worse, and you finally call when the bear breaks into your house, then we do have to kill it. So, if you can call ahead of time, and if there is anything at all we can do, we’ll do it. We’ll try to haze them out of there. We’ll do whatever we can. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Q. Do you guys use bean bags?A. Bean bags, bear spray, electricity works really well. With the new chicken coops going in town, we’ve pushed really hard to get electric fencing incorporated into all those chicken coops, because it really does work wonders. If you’re trying to keep wildlife out of anywhere, electricity’s a great way to do it. They get a little shock and they leave it alone.Q. What are the boundaries of your coverage area?A. I cover all of Glenwood. I go into the Flat Tops, through the Glenwood Canyon to Dotsero, and then I cut up to Sweetwater. My district’s like a big triangle. I have Sweetwater on the east and north. Then I have Canyon Creek right here that cuts up to the north and the west, and then you have the Colorado River. That’s my southern boundary, basically. I have a little bit south of the river, but not a ton. I believe Larry Green – he’s the game warden that was here back in the ’80s and ’90s – I think he said it’s something like 900 square miles of land to cover. Each one of us, we cover pretty similar amounts. Q. Do the different wildlife managers assist each other a lot?A. We assist each other when we need it. Come hunting season, everybody’s working their own stuff. That’s our really busy time. We’ll be putting in close to 300 hours a month, and it’s just kind of one of those things where, if something going on, you’ve got to be out there because you are the only one.Q. What are winters like?A. Winters for here around the Glenwood district, they tend to slow down after hunting season. You catch up on paperwork, stuff like that. We still go up and do snowmobile patrols to check winter range conditions and check herds out to make sure they’re not struggling too bad. If we have a really bad winter, it sometimes can be just as bad as hunting season. We’ve done feeding operations in past when we’ve had really bad winters. Deer, especially, seem to get hit really hard with those hard winters, so we’ll have to go around and feed deer. And the elk can suffer pretty hard from it, too. Generally, around here, it seems the deer get hit pretty hard with that. You still get the nuisance calls. Most of the critters are sleeping and hidden away, but we still get a few here and there. There’s also Ice fishing. We try to go patrol for ice fishermen, things like that, but it tends to slow down a little bit. Q. Is poaching a major issue around here?A. Yeah, it’s a steady issue. It seems like at least one of the guys always has something slowly brewing, an issue coming up. I don’t think you can ever get rid of that. And it’s one of the more interesting parts of the job, I feel. It’s a lot of fun to work those cases. You still get quite a bit of it, whether it’s people keeping too many fish on the river or some guy keeping a monster trophy bull elk. There’s always something going on somewhere.

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