How can we best handle the wildlife now turning up in our own backyards?
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Sterba brings the perspective of a Midwestern country boy to the debate over what to do about our overabundance of wildlife – at least certain species in certain places in our Eastern woodlands, where he now lives. The author grew up on a Michigan farm, where he hunted and fished, at a time when pets were pets rather than pampered members of the family. Nature to him was real, not a sentimental Disney film, and he clearly thinks many of us don’t have sufficient real-world knowledge to back up our often strident opinions about environmental stewardship.Skip to next paragraph
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“Species partisanship” can be every bit as contentious and irrational as the Beltway variety. Take feline fanatics: Try convincing them that feral cats and their free-range domestic cousins are anything but upstanding darlings worry of protection. The Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy make a pretty good case that these interlopers gone wild (as many as 100 million strong) are an invasive species that kills 500 million or more birds in the United States every year.
While advancing his brief that mankind has to do more to intervene as managers in the natural process, Sterba also ably documents how we influence wildlife without really trying or realizing it. We may not want hunters or hired sharpshooters killing deer in our towns, but our vehicles will cull the expanding herd all the same. Indeed, our roadways are magnets for many creatures that are drawn there to feed and end up as road kill. When we feed bears or coyotes in our yards – intentionally with jelly donuts or thoughtlessly by making our garbage easy pickings – we affect their behavior and put both them and ourselves in danger.
Even our beloved bird feeders (Americans spend nearly $5 billion annually for the birds) come under scrutiny: They can facilitate the spread avian diseases, provide an avian buffet for neighborhood hawks and cats, and attract unwanted freeloaders such as bears.
It is easy to appreciate why many people are skeptical of increased human intervention in the natural world. Our past sins are well documented and our current ones are despoiling countless wild places around the planet. At some point soon, if it is not there already, our species may be added to the endangered list. The good news is that the Eastern United States is proof that not all environmental degradation is irreversible and that our dominion over the earth need not preclude the well-being of our fellow creatures. Learning how best to live with our new neighbors is clearly a work in progress.
David Holahan is a regular contributor to the Monitor's Books section.