24 November 2012
COEXISTING WITH WILDLIFE
Wherever I've lived ~ city, suburbs, country ~ I have felt privileged to share territory with wild animals, reptiles, birds. This was never more true than when I was caretaker for a Nature Conservancy preserve in Southern Arizona. We lived on the property, in a century-old, two-story adobe ranch house. My guideline was simple ~ just as I would never invade the nest of an acorn woodpecker, the den of a twin-spotted rattlesnake, or the lair of a bobcat, likewise I kept the house free of wildlife whenever possible. But we all shared the same outdoor habitat, so there were lots of encounters with curious residents.
In all, it worked well, with a few exceptions ~ like the deer mice who invaded the walls, ceiling, and pantry with impunity, or the ongoing battle of wits trying to come up with a foolproof way of keeping raccoons out of the trash cans. It would be pointless (not to mention unethical) to simply kill intruders. Others would replace them.
So humans just need to be smart about how, where, and when they store and protect things which might attract wildlife ~ stored food, garden crops, refuse. This is true whether your surprise neighbor is a mountain lion in Colorado, a whitetail deer in Pennsylvania, a grizzly bear in Montana, a water moccasin in South Carolina, a gray wolf in Wyoming, or a pallid bat in Arizona.
Certain boundaries apply. At the preserve, whenever I discovered a rattlesnake on our porch, I would use a homemade snake hook on a six-foot pole to place the snake in a metal trash can without harming the snake, put on the lid, then carry it several hundred yards away to be released. Tiny invaders like ants or hornets or black widow spiders were not allowed, period. Other than that, we completely enjoyed having wildlife take the exterior of our house for granted as part of their domain.
Jeanette Smith has written a brief list of suggestions for peacefully coexisting with whatever wildlife happens to frequent your backyard. Her article focuses on urban coyotes (see image above), one of the opportunistic species which is so adaptable that their range has actually expanded, in spite of concerted (and usually horrific) efforts to eradicate them. Those efforts generally have the opposite effect from extermination, for two reasons ~ (a) The surviving animals will be those smart enough to figure out and avoid traps, guns and poison, thus passing both their genes and their experience on to the next generation, and (b) under population stress, coyotes start breeding at a younger age, and have larger litters.
Smith is an advocate of coexistence, and offers a number of means for getting along with feeling intruded upon. One method is non-lethal, non-cruel hazing of coyotes, using noise, water, and repellents to discourage these shy but curious omnivores. The hazing guidelines were adopted from the successful Denver, CO, Coyote Management Plan endorsed by the Humane Society. The focus is on urban coyotes, but the methods would work equally well away from cities.
Getting along with wildlife near your home is similar to getting along with wildlife when you visit their home. Smart wilderness hikers and campers understand that they are guests, and are required to behave with courtesy and common sense. Pets should be leashed, food should be stored in locked containers hung from a tree away from the campsite, and care should be taken to avoid surprise encounters (making noise, steering clear of danger zones).
It is up to each of us to learn the habits and needs of any of the creatures we may encounter, and to protect both them and ourselves from unpleasant encounters. That's just good sense, and it creates opportunities for wonderful experiences with wildlife, while avoiding bad experiences. We really can all get along.