Because the beaver isn't just an animal; it's an ecosystem!

The Martinez Beavers

Day: November 3, 2012

Shorter Wall Street Journal: nature is ruining my urban sprawl. Waa!

Offered with literally no trace of self awareness or irony whatsoever. The new book by Jim Sterba describes a urbanity overun by nature and “do-gooders” who feed raccoons as pets and will not allow the noble sharpshooters to take out their geese.

Those conflicts often pit neighbor against neighbor. After a small dog in Wheaton, Ill., was mauled by a coyote and had to be euthanized, officials hired a nuisance wildlife mitigation company. Its operator killed four coyotes and got voice-mail death threats. A brick was tossed through a city official’s window, city-council members were peppered with threatening emails and letters, and the FBI was called in. After Princeton began culling deer 12 years ago, someone splattered the mayor’s car with deer innards.

I find this article as provoking as any single thing I have ever read and I’ve read some beauties. I have been madly trying to no avail to post a comment this morning, so I will content myself with writing a letter. The notion that the problem is that we have allowed wildlife to recover too MUCH and that those crazy bunny huggers are  mean to noble hunters who are just trying to save our cities is beyond outrageous. The simple fact is that humans have expanded into wildlife habitat and taken away their spaces. To adapt they have gotten smarter about living with us. But we have gotten much stupider about living with them.

If you are part of the 1% of America that hasn’t already heard this alarming phone call, you should listen and then think about what it means that we have become a species that is almost incapable of thinking about the habits and limitations of the animals that we complain eat our daisies. As unbelievable as it sounds its a real phone call, who the announcers called back to verify after the massive public response. She had realized by then her mistake and said she was “embarrassed”. I just wonder what lead to that realization, because she robustly warded off at least three attempts to explain in the audio alone. (Surely there must have been others, all her life, from car-poolers, neighbors and friends to tow truck drivers over the years?) But the point isn’t that she is horrifically stupid, the point is that WE all suffer from “nature-deficit disorder and the problem with Jim’s book is that it gives our ignorance protection.

Between 1901 and 1907, 34 beavers from Canada were released in the Adirondacks. With no predators and no trapping, they grew to 15,000 by 1915. Today they are almost everywhere that water flows and trees grow. Beavers are wonderful eco-engineers, a so-called keystone species building dams that create wetlands that benefit countless other species, filter pollutants, reduce erosion and control seasonal flooding. The trouble is, they share our taste in waterfront real estate but not in landscaping. We put in a driveway, they flood it. We plant expensive trees, they chew them down. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the cost of beaver damage may exceed that of any other wild species.

Once upon a time the city of Martinez was worried about flooding with some urban beavers. The city council said they should be euthanized and a neighborhood objected. During the bruhaha that ensued,  someone sent one councilman an email saying that his children should be euthanized instead, and the city decided to take that as a serious enough threat to have 11 fully armed police officers at the meeting where it was discussed. The $5000 in overtime pay for their presence was added to the ‘costs’ that city incurred because of the beavers.

(Dam beavers.)

The end of the story is that despite the city’s  pearl-clutching and theatrics enough people were upset enough that they were able to demand a humane solution. This meant that the city pried open its tightly clenched purse strings and hired someone who was smarter than a sharp-shooter OR a beaver. Skip Lisle installed a flow device that has successfully controlled flooding since that time. 16 beaver kits have been born in Alhambra creek since then and because young ‘disperse’ we still have a population of 4. Because of the beaver dams we have new species of bird, fish and wildlife.

Wildlife biologists say that we should be managing our ecosystems for the good of all inhabitants, including people. Many people don’t want to and don’t know how. We have forsaken not only our ancestors’ destructive ways but much of their hands-on nature know-how as well. Our knowledge of nature arrives on screens, where wild animals are often packaged to act like cuddly little people that our Earth Day instincts tell us to protect. Animal rights people say killing, culling, lethal management, “human-directed mortality” or whatever euphemism you choose is inhumane and simply creates a vacuum that more critters refill. By that logic, why pull garden weeds or trap basement rats?

He sees some of his liberal suburban neighbors coming to believe that “hunting is good—one of the best, most responsible forms of stewardship of nature,” he says. “Maybe I’m dreaming,” he adds, “but hunters are the new suburban heroes.”

Being as that I’ve reviewed 35 articles about noble ‘lost art” hunters in the last year alone, and maybe three articles about tying down trash can lids or installing flow devices, I’m going to say that Jim is wrong. Hunters are already adored because  humans are enormously lazy and sharpshooters get rid of problems that would take effort and thought to solve.

How do I get that in the Wall Street Journal?