Thursday, December 4, 2008

The ill effects of less habitat and fewer hunters

Every night lately when my dog and I head out to practice our before-bed ritual of sauntering the neighborhood, we've seen the new neighbors. Sometimes they're standing in the dark in the backyard next door, silently eyeing us. Other times, they're in the yard of neighbors on the other side, munching the last apples of fall that lay on the ground under the now-bare apple tree. Sometimes they're just moving down the alley in a gang sporting their (ahem) leather jackets, acting like they own the place.

The deer move as freely through our little city at the foot of the big mountains as do my teenage kids on their skateboards and bikes. We all share this space, even if warily. As do the other longer-term denizens of the Animas Valley, home and byway for wildlife since the glaciers went back to the hills for more rocks 10 millenia ago. Still wandering through our town's alleys and taking residence in our privately-owned backyard pastures are, along the with usual assortment of rodents and varmits, more wild wildlife: bear, elk, coyotes, and mountain lion.

And it's not just here in the remote San Juan Country where this is happening: Wildlife are moving into and squatting on suburban and urban landscapes all over the country. And not without consequence, for both human and non.

The causes and implications of this re-wilding of our urban habitat was the subject of an interesting discussion yesterday on NPR's "On Point," with host Tom Ashbrook. The show looked at the question, "Are animals crowding humans, or is it the other way around? Is hunting the way to solve problems between people and animals?"

Guests discussing the issue on the show were:
  • John Rocchetta, a land steward who manages properties on Long Island.
  • Brian Vincent, founder of Big Wildlife, an Oregon-based conservation group.
It's worth giving it a listen. There's an interesting discussion in the comments on the webpage, as well.

Here, too, is the recent excellent piece on the state of hunting by Matthew Teague in Sports Illustrated.
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