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In some parts of the United States, humans and animals are living in closer proximity than ever before. While this presents an opportunity for people to experience the natural world closer to home, for many, these animals are little more than a nuisance. Diane and her guests discuss backyard wildlife and how well we are managing our animal neighbors.
- Daniel Ashe director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Jim Sterba author of "Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds"
Read An Excerpt
Adapted from the book “Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds” by Jim Sterba. Copyright © 2012 by Jim Sterba. Published by Crown, a division of Random House, Inc.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. By the late 1800s, white-tailed deer had been hunted to near extinction. Over the next century, thanks to conservation efforts, the animals made a remarkable recovery. Now deer and humans live side by side in ways early conservationists never imagined. And deer are far from the only species thriving in our neighborhoods.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio for this month's "Environmental Outlook," Jim Sterba. He's the author of a new book titled "Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds," and Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you have experienced this growing phenomenon. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, sir, it's good to have you here and Dan Ashe, it's good to have you here.
MR. JIM STERBAGood morning.
MR. DANIEL ASHEGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd Jim, if I could start with you, you write in "Nature Wars" that the relationship between people and wildlife has never been more confused or more conflicted. What's happened?
STERBAAs these populations of wild species have proliferated in our midst, we've sort of forgotten the ways that we used to manage them and we have even gone to the point of arguing amongst each other about not wanting to manage them at all. So we've divided up into species partisans as I call them in the book.
STERBADeer people, people who want to save deer, people who want to eliminate them from their landscape. It's the same with many other species and we haven't figured out how to do it.
REHMHow did we used to manage them?
STERBAWell, we slaughtered them for about 300 years until there weren't very many left, only remnants by the end of the 19th century. The last half of the 19th century was called the era of extermination because we killed them all, market hunters, commercial hunters, pothunters and so on.
STERBAAnd it was only when the conservation movement got started at the end of the 19th century that we began bringing these creatures back and they slowly came back. And then after the Second World War, we sprawled out into the countryside in all of this newly reforested habitat.
STERBAThese used to be all family farms and the family farmers managed their landscape to protect their crops from wild creatures that harmed them and so all those family farms are gone now and you have all of this sprawl and hardly any farmers. The farmers are way out there somewhere. So no one is essentially managing these creatures except maybe our cars.
REHMDan Ashe, living in such close proximity as we do to these creatures, you argue that it depends on where you are as to how big a problem you have.
ASHEThat's correct and I want to thank Jim for writing the book that he did. It's good, I think, to speak to people in this day and age about wildlife and about what's happening in our world and I really think what we are seeing is that our planet is dominated by human ecology. We're the most dominant species on the planet and will be increasingly in the future.
ASHEAnd what we're seeing is that species that are well adapted to human ecology are doing well. White-tailed deer, Canada geese, beaver, coyote are a number of the species that Jim talks about in his book. But we also need to let people know that species that are less tolerant of human ecology are generally not doing well and so that's why we need to pay attention to what we do as humans and the impacts that we're having on the environment.
REHMBut you know, what I hear most often is from people living fairly nearby who argue, for example, this is such a small example in terms of the whole problem or issue. They're eating my garden, you know, the deer coming closer and closer. They're eating the leaves. They're eating the plants. The rabbits are coming in far too much, you know. Is it that we are trampling on their ground or they're coming into our environment? Whose is it, Jim?
STERBAI think it's both. Animal protection people accuse us of encroaching on their territory...
STERBA...and of course they learn how to encroach back and the reason is, is because oftentimes our habitat is better than theirs. We create all these food sources. We put out birdseed. We put out garbage. We grow this beautiful grass and gardens that are full of wonderful, luscious things for wild creatures to eat.
STERBANot only that, if an animal shows up that shouldn't be there, we tend to treat it as a sort of an outdoor pet. I know people who when a bear turns up in their garbage, say oh, get a doughnut. Let's toss it a cookie and that's the worst thing that you can do because the bear begins to associate human scent with food and you've got problems with that bear ever after.
STERBAI think, anyway, the habitat is better for them in our ecosystem than it is in the woods. You can have far more raccoons in the sprawl than you can in a forest without people.
STERBASame way with deer, coyotes all over the place in urban areas, there are 2,000 in Chicago, according to Dan Gerrita (sp?). They really adjust. Wild turkeys were thought to be incredibly skittish and move your eyeball and they run away. Now, I mean, they're all over the suburbs.
REHMThey're all over the place. Well, let's stick to the deer for one moment, Dan Ashe. How are we doing in the management of the deer population?
ASHEI think the first thing to acknowledge from my standpoint is white-tailed deer are a huge success story. Today, we have an Endangered Species Act that was passed in 1972. If the Endangered Species Act had been a law back in the 1940s and 50s, we probably would have been considering putting the white-tailed deer on the endangered species list.
ASHESo people responded. We put in place professional wildlife management at the state and the local level and so in places like Maryland, here in Virginia, we have professional wildlife management at the state level and so the recovery of white-tailed deer has been a huge success story in American environmentalism and in conservation.
ASHEDoes it have spillover effect in the suburban communities like I think you and I live in, Diane? Yes, it does. I live in Rockville, Md. and my wife, like you, is an avid gardener and the white-tailed deer has become her enemy in a way. And so we look for plants that deer like less and so we try to plant plants that the deer will avoid and the plants that they won't, she learns how to treat them so that the deer don't like them.
ASHEShe uses Deer Off and other products. So can we learn how to live with wildlife? I think we can. Can it be inconvenient? It can be, but I think overall the ability and the access to nature and wildlife is enriching in our lives, I think.
REHMJim, Dan used the word inconvenient, however we have motor vehicles running into some 3-4,000 deer a day. These deer crashes hospitalize 29,000 people and kill at least 200 a year, more annual deaths than from airplane, train and bus crashes combined. This is a serious problem.
STERBAIt certainly is and people are dealing with it in many ways. Dan said learning to live with deer or protecting yourself from them, driving carefully. You can't move deer or geese for that matter. Nobody wants them anymore. Everyone has got too many or they think they do.
STERBASo communities argued for years about what to do with the problem and sometimes they turned to management tools that include lethal options and nobody likes to kill things. We are very compassionate about our pets and wildlife, but I mean, gradually as the problem gets worse, communities come around to dealing with this option.
STERBAI know a deer consultant who doesn't call it killing. He calls it, we have to invoke the human-directed mortality option, which is hiring sharp-shooters, bringing in bow hunters, things that a lot of suburbs don't like to do because we think it's unsafe. But remember hunters' guns kill 31,000 people a year. Hunters kill about 100, mostly each other.
STERBADeer kill, I say, 250 a year so, deer are killing twice as many people as hunters are in an average year so maybe culling them isn't a bad way to go.
REHMCulling them, Jim...
ASHEI think that, Diane, culling is a management of wildlife, is something that is more and more common in the suburban environment. Again, in our area here, Montgomery County where I live, has been designated by the state as a residential archery zone and so there are ways for professional managers to deal with this.
REHMDan Ashe is director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jim Sterba is the author of a new book. It's titled "Nature Wars" and on the cover, a man and a stag confront each other. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking during the break about deer and the extent to which they do move in. Even if you cull the deer in that particular area, others will move in. Here in the studio, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jim Sterba, author of "Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds." Jim has been a reporter for the New York Times and then the Wall Street Journal for over four decades. Of course, we invite your questions, comments, 800-433-8850.
REHMYou know, I think we ought to talk about creatures that are a little less sympathetic in our vision. That is bears, and bears coming into the urban landscape. Why are they doing that, Jim?
STERBAThey're just increasing their populations. And I have to take exception to your thought that they are a little less welcome. Bears were the first pillow toys in this country.
STERBAAnd the reason was because they're all gone from the landscape. Nobody knew what a bear acted like and -- I mean, bear are pretty benign creatures -- black bears that is. And if you're careful and if you do the right things, you're not going to have any problems with them. But their numbers are growing and they spread as their numbers grow.
STERBAWhen bears cubs are born, they're raised for a year or so and then they're kicked out. And they have to find new habitat, which if they go off and find someplace that's not in competition with other species, and it's often in some suburb somewhere where it comes up in the backyard, and people say, oh, get the camera, toss it a cookie.
REHMBut is it because we as human beings are moving farther and farther out into the suburbs and taking over more and more of the land that the bear occupy?
STERBAWell, what's happened is that a milestone was reached in the 2000 census when, for the first time, an absolute majority of the American people lived not in cities, not on farms, but this vast donut in between. And we're all out there in their territory and as their population grows, they're coming into our territory. The example that I use in the book is Orlando and the Ocala National Forest. The biggest black bear population in Florida is in the Ocala National Forest, 60 miles north of Orlando, which is this huge sprawling city.
STERBAAnd the little bears get kicked out of their homes and they go through these slews down into Orlando and they crawl up and here's a little motel with a dumpster and they smell the food. And pretty soon, the poor Indian immigrants that run the motel call 911 and say, I've got a bear in my dumpster. Come and get it. And they come and they dart the bear and they take it 60 miles north and it finds some other human food source. And as they say in Florida, once the bear gets acclimatized to humans and food, you know, a fed bear is a dead bear.
REHMYeah, and what is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doing about these bears?
ASHEWell, bears, I think, as you said, Diane, are less benign species. So generally speaking, bears in an urban and suburban environment, they're really not tolerated. And so what happens is state or local animal control agencies get called to take care of a problem bear. And so for instance, in our area here a couple of years ago, a bear was cited up near Shady Grove Hospital in Montgomery County. You know, probably came down here through the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve.
ASHESo they have connected landscapes. So as we conserve habitat and we build open space into our landscapes, it provides wildlife with avenues to move. And so they will encounter suburban and urban areas periodically. But in general, bears when -- as Jim said, when bears encounter people, bears tend to lose. And so our goal as a wildlife management agency and our state counterparts is to try to manage that interface.
REHMOkay. So you're talking about bears drawn to human food. What about mountain lions in Des Moines, Iowa? How does that happen, Jim?
STERBAI think the mountain lion or cougar population is about 100,000 and they're mostly in the...
REHMIn this country?
STERBA...in the contiguous United States. But as their populations grow, they too spread out. Like bears, they need a lot of territory. I don't know how many square miles a cougar, but it's a lot. And as their populations grow, they move out of the areas in which they're -- they have to find new territory for themselves spreading east and coming further and further into the Midwest. And as you recall, one turned up in Connecticut a year or so ago, come all the way from the Black Hills over two-and-a-half years.
STERBAAnd these animals have a terrific range. They don't need to go that far, but as their populations grow, they spread and they spread into where we are.
ASHEAnd I think, Diane, in a way -- again, what Jim is saying in a way to me is a sign that in a way, we've succeeded as a country. If a mountain lion can move from the...
REHMBetter not move near me.
ASHE...these are facets of the American landscape. These are wild creatures that signify that we're taking good care of the environment. And so if we can have a vibrant economy and we can have black bear and cougar and coyote all at the same time, then what that's telling us is that we really -- we have an environment that's healthy. And can we learn to live with these creatures? We certainly can. We are, in fact.
REHMHow do you answer that question, Jim?
STERBAI think we can learn to live with these creatures. And I think that Dan's right, that this is a success story. We have riches that parts of the rest of the world would envy because we think of the world as going to hell in a hand basket and it's our fault. And in this country ,when I tell people that forests have re-colonized two-thirds of the eastern United States, they can't believe it. They can't believe that forests have come back and -- but wildlife has come back in there too and we're all out there together and we have to learn to live with each other.
REHMAll right. I mean, but the question is balance. The question is if you have coyotes in Chicago, if you have mountain lions in Des Moines, if you have bears in suburban New Jersey, somebody's going to get hurt. Somebody's going to go off the road. Somebody's going to hit a creature and perhaps be hurt oneself. So you're both saying we can learn to live with them, but doesn't that mean cutting back on our sprawl if we're going to learn to live together, Dan?
ASHEDiane, I think it's important to put risk in context. And so, for instance, with the white tailed deer, we have about 1.2 million vehicle collisions per year. That's in the context of 1.1 billion trips annually -- or excuse me, daily, that Americans make 1.2 billion trips daily in automobiles. And so the risk of hitting a deer is remotely small. And so compared to any other risk that we take any day walking down a flight of stairs and falling down a flight of stairs, the risk of hitting a deer in a vehicle is very small.
ASHEIt is a risk and it's something that we should be aware of, but we certainly shouldn't let it dominate our perspective on wildlife. Because increasingly today we're learning that connection with the outdoors and connection with wildlife is important to the wellbeing of humans. And so we should celebrate this, but we should do it in a way where we're learning to live with these creatures.
REHMThere are other risks. For example, the ticks the deer carry that create Lyme disease in human beings. I mean, I think you're both painting for me an idealistic picture of the way humans and animals can life together. But the reality is humans are the dominant creatures in this situation. And one wonders whether we need to pull back or we need to eliminate more, Jim.
STERBAWe're not going to pull back. We're out there. We're all over the place out there. And as a keystone species, that is a species that can manage his or her ecosystem, we have an obligation to manage that ecosystem for all of its inhabitants, the plants, the animals and the people, by the way. And to do that we may have to eliminate overabundance species. And if that means calling deer or geese -- geese that have taken -- I mean, your kid's soccer field was built for your kid, not for 500 Canada geese. And if the geese make it unplayable, then maybe we should think about what that soccer field was built for in the first place.
REHMNow, how do you react to that, Dan?
ASHEWell, two things. You mentioned Lyme disease and that is a real potential concern. Jim and I, talking before the show, both of us have had Lyme disease. And so again, it's something that you need to be aware of, but the treatment is available and is relatively easy in this day and age. So awareness is the key.
REHMSome people live with the aftereffects of Lyme disease for many, many years.
ASHEThey do and -- but that generally is because of the lack of awareness at the initial stages. And so the disease goes untreated in the early stages. So awareness is key. On the Canada geese front, again a great success story. And I read that part of Jim's book with great interest because my daughter was an avid soccer player, played WAG soccer here in the Washington region, played soccer in high school and college. And there were several practice fields where she hated to practice on those fields because they called them -- well, they called them the crap field. She used a different word and -- because they were tended to be covered up with Canada geese from time to time.
ASHEBut they practiced and it was a nuisance. It was an inconvenience for her, but again, those are things that can be managed.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones. We have many callers. Let's go first to Black Mountain, N.C. Mica, you're on the air.
MICAHi, love your show.
MICAI'm in a mountainous area of western North Carolina and we have a lot of wildlife where I live. We see deer and wild turkey all the time up here. And we have bears. And your guests heard the bears referred to as benign a number of times. They've actually been breaking into the houses where I live to get food. And unfortunately, the neighborhood of the homeowners association decided to try to run them off and bring people in with dogs to run off the bears.
MICAAnd I think if we are trying to move out into remote areas because of the natural beauty and to move into animal habitats, that that's just wrong to then try to remove them.
REHMDo you agree with that, Jim?
STERBAI think you should try to live with these creatures as long as you're not conditioning them to break into your house. But obviously one of the things that people do when they see wild creatures is to offer it food, whether it's stuff you throw out for them or put out for them. And again, the problem is not the -- the bear is not causing the problem. The people are causing the problem.
REHMBut the bear's breaking into houses.
STERBABut the bear's breaking in because the people...
STERBA...live there and the bears smell food and does not fear people because people have not -- have done things to make it associate the human smell with food.
MICAYeah, I think the onus is on us to bear-proof our houses if we're going to live in this area because they're just looking for food.
REHMHow do you bear-proof a house, Mica?
MICAThere's products out there. There's motion detector alarms. There's, you know, the barking dog alarms. There are -- I mean, you can put out -- there's websites that talk about putting out, you know, nails, you know, by windows and things which, you know, is not a pleasant thing to do, but...
REHMAll right. Dan, can you add to that?
ASHEI think the -- again, it goes back to one of the original questions you asked, Diane, you know, whose habitat is it? And as we make decisions consciously to move further and further out and in the days of internet connectivity, we can be very remote and be enjoying the pastoral rural lifestyle but still conducting business and being part of a vibrant economy.
ASHESo as we choose to do that, I think we need to be aware that there are liabilities associated with that. You're in a more wilderness setting and so we'll have to learn how to live with bears. And there are ways to -- as Jim has said, one of the main motivations for a bear to come up to a human habitation is for food. And so if you learn how to deal with garbage and how to deal with food storage, you take away one of those major incentives.
REHMDo you think that hiring a pack of dogs is a good way to deal with bears?
ASHEI think that as we think about bears and geese and species like that, generally running them off I think generally tends to just transport the problem somewhere else. And so as we confront these problems I think what we need to do is deal with them in our own context and not seek to try to drive them to be a problem for someone else.
REHMDan Ashe is director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Jim Sterba, author of "Nature Wars." And we'll take a short break and be right back.
REHMAnd we'll go right back to the phones. Our next caller is the president of the Humane Society here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, Wayne.
WAYNEYes, good morning, Diane. And thanks for the show. I know both of your guests. They're both really astute observers of these issues. And I just wanted to make a couple of quick observations...
WAYNE--and turn to them for comment. You know, we have 310 million people in this country and we have countless millions of animals. Just by the gas molecular theory, they're gonna bump into each other. And I think, as both of them have noted, it's how we manage and handle those interactions. Two quick points, one is predators, as they've noted, are coming back, mountain lions, wolves. It's ironic that we're debating about deer-human conflicts, but then we're also trying to wipe out the predators in some ways.
WAYNEWolves are coming back in the Great Lakes region. We should be celebrating that. So much science shows that wolves and mountain lions have enormous beneficial, ecological impacts and they also reduce numbers of these hoofed animal populations, which then presumably minimizes impacts with humans and those species.
REHMWayne, let me ask you, are you suggesting that because wolves have been kept, to a certain extent, under control, that the deer population itself has expanded?
WAYNEWell, there's no question. I think that that's the case. I mean, obviously, predation is just one limiting factor on deer and elk and other animals, but it's a profound and important one. I mean, you will have lots of other forms of natural mortality and those decimating factors will have an impact on those species so they won't, you know, grow forever in number, but they can achieve densities, especially without predators, that cause a problem for us in terms of our kind of social and cultural...
WAYNE...caring capacity. But, you know, we at the Humane Society struggle with these issues. And, you know, we say if there are individual problem animals, well, sometimes lethal approaches may be necessary. But we, of this great genius and creative mind, we can solve a lot of these problems, whether it's fertility control or behaving better in areas that are occupied by wildlife. But I guess my one take away, maybe to throw to your two guests is, you know, we've got to allow these ecosystems to be restored and to have predators. And we shouldn't be killing them off in large numbers like Minnesota and Wisconsin and some of the northern Rocky states are doing with wolves.
WAYNENow, it's a separate issue whether the animals are D listed. The states shouldn't be allowing trapping and killing programs for these predators at the level that they are because they do provide such a beneficial effect in society.
REHMAll right. Dan Ashe?
ASHEHello, Wayne. Thanks for the comment. I would say that reintroduction of predators throughout the United States -- I would agree with Wayne wholeheartedly -- is a great success story. As I've said, since the 1970s and the beginning of the environmental movement we have worked to try to achieve sustainability in ecosystems throughout the United States. We've seen great success in restoration of the Great Lakes, restoration of the Everglades, the Chesapeake Bay, here.
ASHEAnd so I think we have a lot to celebrate, but we have more people in the human landscape. And so as we reintroduce predators like wolves and cougar and bear and things like this, that is a success, but we also have to put them into a social context so that we can provide a good ecological context for them to be successful.
ASHEBut we need to have the social context, as well.
REHM...what about the ranchers out West who claim that their cattle are being destroyed by these wolves?
ASHEAnd that is an issue. You know, west wide, wolf depredation is not a huge issue, but it can be an important issue for an individual producer if a wolf pack is setting right on top of them. And so, again, that's the social context that we have to provide. We have to let people know that there's a way to deal with the side effects of these successes.
STERBAHi, Wayne. Let me throw one thing out about predators and I talk about this in the book. And that is that some research has been done that suggests that the biggest white-tailed deer predator since the end of the last ice age is not cougars and wolves and bears, it's us. That Native Americans, Paleo-Americans killed more deer perhaps than all the other predators combined, but in the sprawl we have walled off from our human predation huge swaths of the countryside by banning predation by people, in other words hunting and so on.
STERBAAnd so here, in the heart of the white-tailed deer's historic range, which is in the eastern third of the United States, its biggest predator is off limits in huge sections.
REHMAnd here's an email from Nelson, in Martha's Vineyard, to exactly that point, who says, "I just spent the morning deer hunting. I think you do hunters a disservice when you suggest killing deer is the worst option. Our country has a long hunting tradition. Hunting provides recreation and food. I stock our freezer each year. Also there was no mention of the role hunters played in conservation. Hunters, a.k.a. sportsmen, were responsible for bringing back deer, turkeys, ducks, et cetera. Sportsmen's dollars support many wildlife programs. My point is conservation did not start with the Birkenstock crowd." So they really have played a role, as you were saying, Jim. Let's go now, to -- and Wayne, thank you so much for your call. Let's go to Town and Country, Mo. Good morning, Barbara Ann.
BARBARA ANNGood morning, Diane Rehm. I really am honored to be on your show this morning. And I wanna thank the two gentlemen for being your guests. I'll kind of give you a brief history. I was an alderman here in Town and Country. We live on one-acre lots. We're a suburb of St. Louis. And about 10 years ago the Missouri Department of Conservation allowed the board to translocate deer as a pilot program and it reduced deer-car collisions. Two years ago the Board of Alderman voted to kill and sterilize deer and it reduced deer-car collisions. Last year the Board voted only to kill deer and according to their own data, it did not reduce deer-car collisions.
BARBARA ANNAnd one of the things that those of us that did not want to allow killing in our residential neighborhoods is Solon, Ohio, where they spent about $500,000 to kill deer. They stopped for two years and the deer population increased 54 percent. So apparently sterilization seems to work as opposed to killing, especially in an urban setting. So my question to your guests is -- and perhaps both gentlemen can answer this -- is where does U.S. Fish and Wildlife come down on, like, GonaCon and other sterilization and fertility control methods for urban deer management? Because I think there's a big difference between urban deer and deer that are out in the wild.
ASHEI think what we should do is we should resist looking for a silver bullet on these things. Contraceptive techniques can be useful in an urban environment.
REHMHow much are they being used?
ASHEThey are being used commonly throughout the United States, but they're expensive. And so...
ASHE...communities have to address and they have to be applied annually. And so it requires a constant input of dollars, essentially, to use contraceptives effectively. They can be used where you have fenced and smaller populations in an urban setting. They can be useful, but also hunting and direct control by sharpshooters. There are many ways. So I would urge people to not look for a silver bullet, but to look for many alternatives to manage these animals.
REHMOkay. Let's talk about coyotes. Where are they living and should we be surprised at where they're living? Jim?
STERBAThey're living all over the place. And if you look at the way sprawl is laid out, we have all of these corridors for them to come into places. I mean, you can go along the "L" lines in Chicago and see all this brush along. And coyotes can live in back of your garage and have a littler of pups back there. And you won’t even know they're there. They're very adaptive and there's lots of food for them. I mean, your cat can be a meal. Goose eggs are a big meal. They eat rabbits and mice mostly, but...
REHMI have a small dog, Jim.
ASHELet him roam.
ASHEI think that, yeah, coyotes are very adaptable. They're one of the creatures I said that can live in the shadow of human ecology quite well. And I think people are fearful of coyotes, but, as Jim says, there really is not much to be feared. I think they're animals...
REHMWhat about the confrontation between human being and coyote? What is that coyote likely to do?
ASHERun away. And so...
REHMAre you sure of that?
ASHEOh, quite sure.
ASHEAnd when we think about the conflicts that we're talking about, like Jim said, we have urban geese. Well, if we have coyotes, then coyotes will prey on the geese and will harass them. So if there are too many coyote, the geese will probably go look for a better place to live.
REHMAnd what about rabies?
ASHERabies can be an issue, but with all forms of wildlife, whether they're raccoons or possum or coyote, I mean, rabies can be issue. Again, it's something that we need to be aware of.
REHMWe talked about bear a little while ago. And you all made an interesting comment and it speaks to this email from Andrew, who lives in Chicago. He says, "Where we're not supposed to feed pigeons, ducks and geese because of pollution and animal health concerns, why is this less acceptable than putting a birdfeeder in your backyard?" Jim?
STERBAWell, as Dan says, birdfeeders are candy for bears, birdseed. And if you just leave them up when bears come out of hibernation or in the fall when they're trying to bulk up for going to sleep for the winter, birdseed is a great source of food and if bears are around they're gonna find it. And it's one of the chief ways in which we lure wildlife into our backyards. The birdseed drops and of course squirrels and chipmunks, possums, raccoons, foxes, all sorts of creatures come around. Cats come around and try to snatch the birds around feeders. These are wildlife aggregation devices, essentially.
ASHEI think there's nothing inherently wrong with feeding wildlife. It has to be done in the right context. If we're feeding birds and we're knowledgeable about how to do that in a safe way and keep the birdfeeders clean so they don't present disease problems. I think the principle concern about, like, feeding bread or other things to geese and other animals is that is habituates them to humans. And so I think in the urban context a lot of times we're trying to keep those animals out. We're trying to invite them to go other places. And when people feed them you're attracting them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, to Ludington, Mich. Hi there, John.
JOHNGood morning. How you guys doing?
JOHNWell, you know, this deer thing is a big can of worms. I've been on a family farm since the '50s and we used to give the outside three rows of our orchards to the deer because it just wasn't worth trying to kill them all. And then finally when we have to haul products 150 miles south and compete with my cousins on the same prices of the same crops, then you gotta start protecting your fields from the deer. And when you talk about fencing, you're talking about $10,000 for a mile of fencing that's pretty good, until you get snow in the winter and the January thaw and then the deer can jump from the crust right over the fence and eat the crops in the wintertime.
JOHNSo it's one of those incredible things. We also live in a pretty part of the state and so a lot of people come from the cities and buy properties in our area, then they can't afford the taxes, so they subdivide the properties to smaller parcels, when then pushes the deer onto the bigger parcels, which increases the pressure on our crops.
REHMGood grief. Dan, do you wanna comment? Maybe you've got some ideas for John.
ASHEWell, first of all, I think the American farmer has been a great friend of wildlife in general, as the caller was commenting. I think in general has been a great boon to wildlife. I think it comes back to that basic premise, with agriculture there are ways to deal with what we call depredation, by allowing animals to be killed and to prevent depredation, but it is a concern for an agricultural producer. I think, as we've gone through this whole discussion, there are many things about nature and encounters with wildlife that lead me, again, to say that what we're learning is that nature is good for the human condition.
ASHEAnd access to nature is good for us, as human beings. It can be inconvenient. It can be risky at times, but it overall is good for us. And what we need to do is learn better to live in the context of a healthy environment. And a healthy environment includes wildlife.
REHMAnd how healthy can we make that environment to take into account the animals who live there, the humans who want to grow crops or flowers or whatever? How can we make that as healthy as possible?
ASHEJim raises many things in his book. I think as we are better at designing landscapes in the urban and suburban environment, then we'll have more wildlife. We can make those environments, when we want, make them less hospitable to wildlife so that we begin to create a separation where we need separation. I think it's a matter of being smart and being aware of what the risks are.
STERBAReally, that's a very important point. Americans, over generations, since the second World War, have been -- in fact this whole last century, of become incredibly denatured. We've taken ourselves out of the natural landscape. We got our nature from films, from books, from TV, from movies and we began to see these animals edited into creatures that look like us, that acted like us and we don’t know enough about what the real wild landscape and it's creatures are.
REHMJim Sterba, he's the author of a new book. It's titled, "Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turn Backyards into Battlegrounds." Dan Ashe is director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. The message is go along and get along and find ways to make it better for you and them. Thanks a lot.
STERBAThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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