AR-News: Wildlife, Humans Clash on America's Urban Frontier
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Wed Apr 14 20:57:49 EDT 2004
Wildlife, Humans Clash on America's Urban Frontier
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USA: April 14, 2004
HELENA, Montana - Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope
play, eat shrubs, cause traffic jams and give birth on your front lawn.
Whether it is deer in Montana, black bears in New Jersey, mountain lions in
California or bison in Wyoming, wildlife is becoming accustomed to city
life, sometimes with tragic results.
In Helena, Montana, up to 500 mule deer live within the city limits, and
their number is growing.
"We have 25-50 fawns born each year," said Mike Korn, the area supervisor
for Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Development and urban sprawl are partly to blame.
"We've actually moved into their territory, rather than vice versa," said
Ron Aasheim, administrator of conservation education for the department.
Drought conditions and wildfires in the last five years are other factors.
"In some areas, towns and cities are the only green spots," Korn said.
Environmental laws have sometimes been too effective. New Jersey's black
bears were hunted nearly to extinction before a 33-year hunting ban led to a
In Montana, mule deer numbers are growing in its cities as the urban
environment provides ideal habitat.
"Food, shelter, lack of predators - the deer have everything they need,"
Last month, northern California officials were shocked to find a sea lion in
a farmer's field about 65 miles inland. The 315-pound creature had traveled
about 1 mile from the nearest body of water, a series of canals
crisscrossing the farmland.
In Helena, it is not unusual to see groups of two or three deer bounding
across the municipal golf course, crossing streets, or visiting neighborhood
gardens. No one has been injured, but Aasheim believes it is only a matter
"Bucks in rut can be pretty truculent," he said of the deer mating season.
He also said there is a real possibility mountain lions will follow their
favorite prey into town, with unpredictable results.
In January, a mountain lion, or cougar, killed a man biking in Orange County
south of Los Angeles and badly wounded a woman. Police later killed a cougar
nearby and found pieces of the man in its stomach.
A 1990 California voter initiative banned the hunting of mountain lions,
which may explain their increasing boldness.
"When a species is hunted - bears, mountain lions, deer - they're afraid of
people," Korn said. In towns that prohibit hunting, they gradually lose that
Some urban areas have been forced to permit hunting again. Last December,
New Jersey allowed people to shoot black bears and Fort Benton, Montana,
recently approved a hunt in a designated part of town.
Colorado residents have killed more than 1,000 bears, most who had wandered
into residential areas for food, in the past four years.
"Bears will come right into communities when they have the opportunity,"
said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury. "When we
believe that the bear actually is a potential risk to people, or when the
bear has become so habituated to food that people leave out that they are
going to continue to come back and even enter people's homes, in those
circumstances we do kill bears."
Urban deer can be a headache for homeowners who spend lots of money and time
planting, watering and fertilizing trees and shrubs, only to see them become
dinner for a hungry doe.
About 50 miles from New York City, as many as 400 deer wander on Fire
Island, a popular summertime beach community.
"To some people, the word deer inevitably brings up images from Walt
Disney's classic film 'Bambi,"' the National Park Service Web site said
about Fire Island's deer.
"In the last 20 years or so, many people have also come to think of deer as
pests, 'rats with hooves.' Crowded out by human development, with no
remaining natural wild predators, deer eat suburbanites' gardens and cause
Tom Eastman, a Montana homeowner, said: "I call them forest rats. Ten years
ago, I used to think they were cute. That was when you couldn't get within
50 feet of them. Now, they don't scare, even when you yell at them. They're
not like Bambi, not in the least."
Montana wildlife officials met in Helena last month to discuss the problem.
Korn said organizing a hunt is an obvious but controversial option.
"There's supposed to be new technology for deer birth control," he said.
"But, as with humans, you have to keep it up regularly."
"Whatever solution is tried, it's sure to make someone unhappy," said
Aasheim of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "But deer represent something
special. They should be wild and free."
Story by Chris McGonigle
"As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he
always had the same thought: in their behavior toward creatures, all men are
The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased
exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is
~ Isaac Bashevis Singer
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