The opportunity to view a diversity of wildlife in their natural habitat is an important part of what makes the Air Force Academy a unique military base and educational institution. Numerous mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and birds make their home in the installation's open space. Mule and white-tailed deer, American elk, Merriam’s turkey, black bear, coyote, mountain lion, beaver, and a wide-variety of migratory birds are commonly observed in the grassland, riparian, and forested habitats. Native small stream fish, including creek chub, white sucker, longnose dace, stickleback, and fathead minnow are abundant in Monument Creek and some of its tributaries. The Academy works closely with US Fish and Wildlife Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists to protect and manage the habitat and wildlife, which is influenced by human activity and development both on and off-base.
Whether hiking with binoculars and guidebook, driving, or cycling the roads and trails, you can enjoy all sorts of wildlife viewing opportunities, especially if your timing is right. Early morning and evenings offer the best viewing opportunities when wildlife are often most active. To protect yourself and the wild animals there are a few simple viewing rules to follow:
- Observe animals from a distance. If animals look nervous, you're too close!
- Move slowly and casually, speak softly
- Never chase or harass animals
- Keep pets leashed
- Do not feed or attempt to touch wildlife
Excellent information on Colorado's wildlife resources, recreational opportunities, outdoor education programs, and State-run facilities is available online at Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Numerous wildlife-vehicle accidents occur on the base each year, especially incidents involving deer and smaller mammals. To reduce this road hazard, there are several effective driving practices you should use:
- drive at or below the posted speed limit
- frequently scan the roadsides for wildlife
- use headlight high beams when possible
- increase your alertness around dawn and dusk
- flash headlights repeatedly to warn other drivers of oncoming wildlife hazards
For information on salvaging roadkill deer and elk, see the Hunting page. The graph below illustrates how important the base's hunting program - reinstated in 1988 - is for managing and controlling the deer and elk population, thereby reducing the incidence of wildlife-vehicle accidents.
Hazardous and Nuisance Wildlife
Although people working, residing, or visiting the Air Force Academy and Farish Recreation Area can enjoy a diversity and abundance of wildlife, not all encounters with wild animals are safe or welcome. Small mammals like bats, rabbits, squirrels, mice, prairie dogs, and raccoons can carry and transmit wildlife diseases (e.g., rabies, hantavirus, tularemia, plague) and should be left alone. If such animals are causing a problem near a residence or base facility, contact Pest Management (333-2790) or Natural Resources to resolve the issue. The same guidance applies for non-venomous and venomous snakes. Offending wildlife most often can be trapped and relocated to areas where human contact is less likely, rather than being euthanized.
Larger animals such as fox, coyote, bobcat, deer, black bear, and mountain lion present a greater safety hazard when close to people. To minimize this risk, there are many actions you can take to reduce the likelihood of a negative encounter, including:
- always view wildlife from a safe distance
- maintain awareness of your surroundings
- control pets and children around wildlife
- eliminate food sources - garbage, bird feeders, pet food
- use outside lights at night
- make some noise to make wildlife aware you're in the area
On the Air Force Academy, the single greatest attractant of hazardous and nuisance wildlife is access to garbage in trash cans and dumpsters. Animal-resistant trash containers and dumpsters are highly effective at deterring wildlife when used properly. A trash container is only secure and effective if all the doors and lids are closed and latched. Damaged or broken trash receptacles should be reported to the Housing Office (867-9688) or Civil Engineering (333-2790) depending on who provides the container.
The Natural Resources office and Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not routinely destroy, trap, or relocate wildlife that are not posing an immediate threat to public health or safety, or causing significant property damage. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has numerous helpful Living With Wildlife articles to help you become more animal-aware and informed about the wildlife with whom we share the Academy.
Rare Species Conservation
Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse
The Air Force Academy's riparian areas support a significant population of the federally threatened Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei). Since 2000, a Conservation Agreement between the Academy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has guided the protection and conservation of this rare subspecies, while allowing for military training and routine operation and maintenance of the base's facilities and infrastructure. Population and habitat monitoring, habitat protection, and the mitigation of unavoidable habitat disturbances have been focal areas of the Academy's highly-regarded Preble's conservation program since the mid-1990's. Unfortunately, much of the on-base and off-base habitat for the mouse is being rapidly degraded by mismanged stormwater and other development impacts (see Watershed and Range). Despite these issues, the Academy still has a critical role in conserving Preble's and contributing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to recover the species' so it no longer requires Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. The Air Force Academy is excluded from the Preble's "critical habitat" designation due to ESA and Sikes Act provisions which exempt DoD facilities that have species conservation measures included in an Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan.
To some, expending tax dollars to manage and conserve a rodent and its habitat may seem pointless or wasteful. The existence of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse in an area, however, is strongly correlated with the health and integrity of the riparian habitat and adjacent uplands. Well-managed Preble's habitat provides economic and environmental benefits, including flood protection, improved water quality and water storage, and quality habitat for a large percentage of Colorado's wildlife which utilize wetlands and riparian during their life-cycle.
Pink = Preble's "Conservation Zone" on the Air Force Academy
Light Blue = "Critical habitat" designated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on adjoining properties.
Natural Plant Communities and Other Species of Concern
Biologists and botanists with the Air Force Academy and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) have conducted several inventories for rare plants, animals, and plant communities. Recent surveys (2010-12) have updated and added to the number of significant plants and animals recorded on the base. Overall, nearly 20 rare plants or animals, seven natural plant communities, and four Potential Conservation Areas have been identified. Despite a history of grazing, logging, farming, fire suppression, and military training, the Academy's landscape has retained enough integrity to support biological resources of State and global importance. Conservation and protection of these species and native communities is considered in all land use and resource management decisions. This proactive approach helps preserve the Academy's natural heritage and may prevent or delay the need for future regulatory oversight.