Urban wildlife -- it isn't all happening just at the zoo
Atlanta — In some of the wooded parts of this bustling Sunbelt city, white-tailed deer have been spotted. A family of foxes were discovered living in a midtown yard; raccoons and opossum are found in almost every neighborhood here.
"People are providing these animals -- either wittingly or unwittingly -- with food and harborage," says Dr. Ina Jane Wunderam, a Georgia State University urban anthropolgist who is studying how human behavior affects urban wildlife.
As she pursues her research here, efforts are under way in a number of other cities to save existing urban wildlife and encourage more of it.
In Missouri, the state has been buying parcels of land in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas to preserve wildlife and provide outdoor recreation. Financed by a one-eighth of 1 percent increase in the state's sales tax, the program also provides urban homeowners with yard-care tips to increase wildlife.
Subdivision planners are increasingly listening to advice on how to design developments to increase wildlife, says Tom Franklin, executive director of Urban Wildlife Research Center, in Ellicott City, Md. Clustering homes and leaving contiguous wooded areas attracts wildlife, he says.
In Baltimore and Washington, Peregrine falcons, an endangered species almost extinct on the East Coast as a wild breeding bird, have been raised in cages and released. They like to nest on tall buildings and prey on pigeons, says Paul Opler of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Some of the falcos, raised in isolation from humans (fed by remote control), have apparently paired up, says biologist Opler, in charge of listing endangered species for the Department of Interior.
"There's more wildlife in metro D.C. than in most areas of Iowa," he says. Some steps are being taken to enhance urban wildlife across the nation, but more needs to be done, he says.
Some plantings along urban highways attact birds, he notes. Dandelions and certain other yard plants should be allowed to grow to attract birds and butterflies, he adds.
Many species of wildlife thrive in small wooded areas that can be found in cities, according to biologists.
In the planned city of Columbia, Md., "deer have been popping up all over town" in scattered wooded areas, says Fish and Wildlife urban researcher Aelred Geis.
And, he adds, "There were more birds [both in numbers and variety] in Columbia after development than before. Some species that inhabited the area, once open farmland between Baltimore and Washington have declined. But others, including sparrows, mockingbirds, and pigeons, have increased, Mr. Geis found.
Fruit-bearing ornamental bushes in yards and architectural structures such as unboxes eaves where birds enter and nest have encouraged bird life there and in other urban developments, says Geis.
Nationally, says Geis, there is a trend toward recognizing the need to manage wildlife for more than just hunters and fishermen.
A federal law passed earlier this year authorized $20 million over the next four years for nongame wildlife preservation. While some specialists are optimistic about this, others caution that no appropriations have been passed yet to fund the law.
Meanwhile, most wildlife efforts continue on behalf of the hunters and fishermen because "they're paying the bill [in license fees and taxes on sports equipment]", says Joe Kurz, assistant chief of game management for Georgia. "How can you take $1 million of hunters' money and buy a park so city kids can go look at wildlife?" he asks.
It was just this dilemma that led a group of citizens in Missouri to fight for the increased sales tax for urban wildlife programs. The vote -- forced on the ballot by the initiative process -- barely passed in 1976, with strong urban and college community support.
It is considered by leading wildlife specialists to be the best urban wildlife program in the nation.