Carl Whiting was working at the Warm Springs Golf Course one morning last year when he noticed he was being followed as he puttered about the grounds in a small utility vehicle.
His shadow had whiskers and a tail. The 50-pound feline was a bobcat.
Here he is, just walking alongside me for 100 yards, the Boise parks employee recalled. I just kept driving. At times, he looked at me.
Whiting said he didnt feel threatened in the small, open vehicle. At one point, he stopped to take a photo. The curious cat stopped too, but he was soon gone.
He spotted geese and started slinking off, he said.
This wasnt Whitings first close encounter with wildlife in Boise. He once caught a glimpse of a young black bear as it took cover in bushes behind the Natatorium on Warm Springs Avenue and was delighted to watch river otters playing in Veterans Memorial Park Pond.
Ive seen every kind of animal you can imagine, he said.
Its a perk of working here, added fellow parks employee Jim Baker, who recounted seeing foxes frolicking in a city park, bald eagles nesting along the Boise River and a small herd of deer crossing the Broadway Bridge.
Just how wild is Boise? Well, a young moose was trapped in a Warm Springs backyard and relocated in June. A cougar was killed near Saint Als in May, and several more haunted the Greenbelt most of the fall. In 2007, one bear was safely tranquilized, and another died when it fell from a tree after being darted.
How unusual is Boises urban population the wildlife, that is?
Boises geography makes it a great place for animals. But plenty of cities near water whether Chicago or Miami are magnets for wildlife, meaning that Boises collection of mammals and birds may be widely varied and wildly entertaining, but not necessarily unique.
Wildlife sightings are part of why many enjoy living in Boise, said Steve Nadeau, Idaho Fish & Games regional wildlife manager for Southwest Idaho.
If you divorce yourself from the natural system, then you become lost, Nadeau said. I think were lucky to have something as great as nature on our doorstep and we can connect with that.
It can be alarming when some wildlife turn up, literally, on the doorstep. Regular reports of mountain lions near the Greenbelt underscore the delicate dance between man and beast in Idahos capital city.
In 2011, 35 reports came in of mountain lions in Fish & Games 11-county Southwest region. This year, 26 reports were recorded, including a dozen in Boise and Garden City.
We usually record reports when (carnivores) are around peoples homes or in town, Nadeau said. The data does not include those seen in the woods.
The citys isolation in high desert country and its proximity to a multiplicity of habitats in and near the Boise River, Foothills and forested mountains create natural mingling opportunities.
Boiseans often venture into the wild just a mile north of the Statehouse, and its not uncommon for wildlife to wander into town.
Peregrine falcons nesting in Downtown Boise have become celebrities of sorts. A Web camera set up four years ago allows residents to watch chicks hatch in the nest box on the 14th floor of One Capitol Center.
Peregrines have adapted to urban areas across the country, nesting in tall buildings from Portland, Ore., to New York City. One unique thing about Boise its just north of the Morely Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, which boasts the densest population of nesting raptors in North America.
Nesting osprey entertain players and spectators at Hawks Stadium and the Willow Lane softball complex, and wild turkeys are occasional visitors to Northwest Boise subdivisions.
Trees along the Boise River have been wrapped to protect them from plentiful beavers, and the animals are sometimes trapped and relocated.
COUGARS, COYOTES IN THE BIG CITY
Though landscapes and ecology may differ, cities across the country share the same benefits and challenges of urban wildlife.
Mountain lion sightings were reported in Chicago suburbs this year, and an estimated 2,000 coyotes live in Cook County (the second most populated county in the United States).
One wily coyote gained international fame in 2007 when it walked into a downtown Chicago Quiznos and climbed into a beverage cooler. Just last month, a photographer captured a pair of coyotes hanging out in front of Wrigley Field, where the Cubs baseball team plays.
Coyotes have proved capable of adapting to urban environments.
Whats fascinating to me is what a low percentage (of coyotes) become problem animals, said Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at Chicagos Lincoln Park Zoo.
Tom Governale, Boises parks superintendent, has noticed that coyotes have become comfortable in North and East Boise.
Ive seen them walking around in the middle of the day near 3rd and 4th streets, near Fort Boise, he said.
A large number of coyotes once populated Ann Morrison Park, and were helpful at keeping the parks goose and duck populations in check, he said. Many were trapped after park neighbors expressed concerns about coyotes snatching pets or harming children, Governale said.
When repeated conflicts between city dwellers and wildlife occur, thats when wildlife are labeled a nuisance. Nuisance geese, black bears, coyotes, squirrels and racoons occur in many parts of the country. Alaska has statutes regulating responses to nuisance moose.
New Jersey is holding its third-consecutive black bear hunt to control the population and halt a rise in property damage and nuisance complaints. Bears have been seen in all 21 counties of the nations most densely-populated state.
OASIS IN THE DESERT
The city is ringed by public lands and wildlife areas, including the Boise River Wildlife Management Area, the Morley Nelson birds of prey area and Barber Pool Conservation Area.
The Foothills just north of town provide winter range for thousands of mule deer and elk.
The things that make Boise hospitable to humans the tree-lined river, more than 100 parks and thousands of grassy yards are also attractive to wildlife looking for water, food and a comfortable place to sleep.
The Greenbelt provides a cool, green respite from the hot dry desert surrounding Boise, particularly for young animals that have not yet established home ranges, Nadeau said.
Deer frequent green spaces around town, including Kathryn Albertson Park and Morris Hill Cemetery. Theyre known to bed down in the wood chips of the playground at Municipal Park.
Soccer players arent the only ones who love Simplot Sports Complex in Southeast Boise. Antelope have been known to pass through, too.
If people were to get up in the middle of the night and look into their backyards, theyd be surprised at the number of animals, Governale said.
But dont overlook the birds.
The geology of the area has lent itself well to creating air currents that facilitate (bird) migration, said Jerry Deal, regional wildlife habitat manager for Idaho Fish & Game.
I enjoy seeing the songbirds and the wading birds along the Boise River, Deal said. You can see herons, pelicans and bald eagles. Its a neat corridor.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413