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Originally from acres of land in Wyoming, Stephanie Morris has always loved nature. With a plethora of wildlife roaming the outskirts of Highlands Ranch, she hopes to see more awareness among residents.“Knowledge is power,” Morris, a Highlands Ranch resident, said. “Finding out more about wildlife would help the community be aware of what is around us and not live in fear.”Now, community members can see for themselves what species dwell in the Backcountry — 13 square miles of conserved open space that borders the southern edge of the community. The Highlands Ranch Community Association Backcountry Wilderness Area has installed 25 small cameras near areas of high and low human impact — the Backcountry has 26 miles of trails — to study population, health and behavior of wildlife. Data will be used for future management decisions, said Mark Giebel, director of the Backcountry Wilderness Area.“Much of the Backcountry is accessed through guided hikes and programs,” he said. “That provides a place for wildlife to thrive with little human disturbance — there aren't many places like that left on the Front Range.”The idea for a wildlife study came to be about a year ago. The Backcountry Wilderness Area used money from the annual Elk Banquet, hosted by the HRCA, to purchase the cameras, which have been accumulated over the years at about $100 per piece, Giebel said.Giebel and his team use the HRCA Backcountry Wilderness Area Facebook page to post their findings on "Trail Cam Tuesdays." Past photos include those of two elk butting antlers, two mid-sized black bears wandering through shrubs and a small bobcat slinking away.Cameras are placed near water sources to get the best inventory, said Giebel, adding that it's fun for the community to see.“People are surprised that there are so many wildlife out there — how valuable it is to the community because of its richness and diversity,” Giebel said of the Backcountry.It's important to have areas set aside for wildlife, he said.Morris expressed similar feelings.“I just love nature and love where I live,” she said. “I want us so badly to be able to coexist and help them stay where they need to be.”
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