After a week of cougar, moose and other wildlife sightings in cities, expect more animal encounters in Utah as the valleys warm

(Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) This young, male cougar was caught in a culvert after being spotted near Bluffdale Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

A spate of appearances by cougar and moose — and one intrepid mountain goat — in cities along the Wasatch Front has animal lovers reaching for their binoculars and wildlife officials warning that more close encounters could be coming.

“March is a very important month to keep your eyes open,” said Scott Root, conservation outreach manager for the state Division of Wildlife Resources’ central region.

Since last week, a mother and two juvenile cougars roamed into the backyard of a Millcreek home, peeking in the resident’s window; a mountain goat was caught on camera by police in Cottonwood Heights; a mother and juvenile moose were captured in Bountiful and taken to the Uinta Mountains near Kamas; and Bluffdale Elementary School enacted its emergency protocols after a cougar was spotted at a park across the street.

Wildlife officers say the volume of reported sightings is a bit higher than in most years, probably because Utah’s mountains received their usual heavy snowfalls, after multiple unusually warm, dry winters.

"We haven't had a normal winter in a lot of years. We're finally getting some good snowfall up in the mountains," said Mark Hadley, conservation outreach manager for the DWR's northern Utah region. "As the snow piles up in those higher elevations it becomes more difficult for the animals to find food."

The lower elevations could become even more tantalizing as they become warm and green while the higher mountains stay snowy into March, Root said. That brings deer, and deer can bring hungry cats.

"If [you] are in mountain lion country — foothills and scrub oak, or they've got a lot of deer in the neighborhoods, you might want to be extra cautious with pets, especially in low-light hours," Root said.

The seeming upswing in reported sightings, even over other winters with normal heavy snowfall, may also be tied to the proliferation of cameras, whose images and footage of wildlife can become popular on social media, Hadley said. Housing developments also are creeping higher and higher on Utah’s mountains, and spreading into places that had long been winter habitat for mountain animals, Hadley noted.

“These areas still provide winter habitat for the animals, but many of them are also filled with people and their homes,” said Darren DeBloois, a DWR biologist who oversees the management of cougars and bears in Utah, in a news release. “And more and more houses are now equipped with security cameras. The photos and videos these cameras capture can make it look like the number of animals in urban areas is increasing. In reality, many of the animals have been there all along. You just weren’t aware they were there.”

Most of the recent sightings have occurred in higher-elevation neighborhoods, or near green space, which likely is what drew Wednesday's mountain lion to Bluffdale.

"Bluffdale's got quite a bit of open space," Root said. "Historically there have been mountain lions out in that area; it's more developed now."

The cat was spotted by police about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday at Wardle Fields Park, near 14150 South and 2700 West. Bountiful Elementary, across the street, was ordered to “shelter in place,” FOX 13 reported.

The cat was taken to "a remote part of Utah County," Root said.

Last weekend, wildlife officers tranquillized two moose that wandered into Bountiful and released them near Kamas.

“Moose and elk can typically stay higher up in the deeper snow, but obviously you’ll get some of those moose that will come down,” Root said. “They’ll see a road that’s got four feet of snow, that’s easier to walk on. They’ll go for snow that’s less deep.”

Less common a sight in town are mountain goats, but that didn’t stop one from visiting Mine Shaft Road on Feb. 22.

“At the mouth of Big and especially Little Cottonwood, there are some mountain goats that are wintering there,” Root said. “To have them come down the canyon slope and cross the road — that happens. But they don’t usually come down to the west, into town. That is unusual.”

The mountain goat did not need to be captured or moved; it wasn’t seen again, and wildlife officials believed it has returned to the mountains.

“It said hello and left on its own,” Root said.