Living With Wildlife
If you live in the woods you live with the wildlife – plain and simple, right? When you choose the country life you have to expect animals, after all they were here first. Well in my corner of New Marlborough, I might be thought of as the “attractor of wildlife” because I feed the birds. Now, mind you, I am a very conscientious bird feeder – taking the feeders down in the spring, putting them back in the late fall. In the meantime, I put out hummingbird feeders and enjoy almost two dozen of those speedy little birds all summer, and have never had any animal take down those juice feeders. I also have a small compost pile that ends up being food for the crows which are very territorial birds. These crows know immediately when I throw out any food and within minutes there are five or six that descend on the food and devour it all. That is the extent of my feeding the birds until winter - then everything comes out - feeders for suet, nuts, fruit, a large trough for cracked corn for the turkeys, and plenty of sunflower seeds for all!
I adore animals of all kinds. I respect them, appreciate them, and am very concerned about their habitats and continued survival in our area. I have certified my property with National Wildlife Federation as a habitat for native plants and wildlife, and I am in the process of working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Landowner Incentive Program (LIP). According to the Service, “the program supports cooperative efforts with private landowners interested in conserving natural habitat for species at risk, including Federally listed endangered or threatened species and proposed or candidate species.” In addition, I am a bird watcher and counter with the Audubon Society, as I have been most of my adult life, and am involved with the much-needed record keeping of the species that come and go in this area. I have walked the woods of this village my entire life. For hours on end as children, we roamed the hills, fields, and forests, never encountering a bear, never seeing a fox, bobcat, wolf, fisher, coyote or mountain lion – all of which live amongst us here in New Marlborough, and all of which I have seen in my corner of New Marlborough on a regular basis for the last twenty years.
As our hillsides, fields and mountains are slipping away to logging and clearing and construction of mammoth houses, it has disrupted the natural habitats of the wildlife and, Mass Audubon reports that, “encounters between humans and wildlife become more and more common.” In the 60’s growing up in New Marlborough, we did not have much development going on, so it was rare for anyone to see the bigger animals of our woods during the day, but on occasion while driving at night, something might cross the road in front of you. Reports of bears are numerous now in our area, and although bear attacks are VERY rare, when one happens it makes the news, because of the rarity of the event, and promptly alarms the people that do not know how to live in the country with the wildlife. More often then not, the bears attacked because humans aggravated them, and it is these people that need to learn how to live with the wildlife.
Wildlife will come through our yards regardless if there are birdfeeders, compost piles, or food left out – I have tried it. I went for six weeks without putting out a single morsel of anything and had as many, if not more sightings of animals then I did when I was actively feeding the birds and composting. Family pets attract wildlife, as well as farms. The farmer and wildlife have been dealing with each other since the beginning of time, but we cannot live without the farmer, so they each learn to adapt and co-exist. The attraction for wild animals to farms will never end, how could it? All those smells are tempting to wildlife, all that movement of barnyard animals is attracting. The fox or fisher sees a group of chickens; a bear smells the manure with bits of undigested grain. Bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions, all want a taste of the baby calves, lambs, colts, or even the family dog or cat - this is reality folks, if you choose to own any animals, expect the wildlife to roam your land. Do not leave your pet vulnerable tied up outside all day alone, or at night, it makes them an easy target for packs of coyotes, or a mountain lion. They need protection from the wildlife too!
A few other temptations to wildlife are from our barbecue grills that have the tasty scent of meat or chicken, and from our garbage cans. There sits the grill or can on a deck or porch, or out in the yard, and the wildlife, with their strong sense of smell, cannot resist. It is like sending out a dinner invitation. I have seen garbage cans left at the end of driveways by weekend homeowners on Sunday for pickup on Thursday or Friday and of course, by then it has been toppled by wildlife and strewn all over the road. These things attract the wildlife, plain and simple. Secure garbage cans with strong bungee cords, or take a weekly trip to the transfer station, it only takes a half hour or so of your time, plus the purchase of the yearly sticker helps with funding operations. You might try to compress and freeze the food waste garbage and take it with you if you are gone for the week, for disposal when you reach your destination. Do not leave it outside, and please, do not burn it either, that is pollution and is against the law. Scrub your grill after each use, at the very least go to Kmart and get a big plastic specially shaped grill cover (under $10) to help cover any scents. Our grill sits out in the yard, clean and covered, and the bears that do come through have never disturbed it.
Wildlife abounds here in our corner of New Marlborough, I watch like clockwork, twice, sometimes three times a day, as fox trot down a driveway that leads to the chickens, past the tempting manure and compost piles, in hopes of getting something to eat. I have seen the bear travel that same road, and watched one day while he lay right down on the manure and started eating it. One farm nearby has a fox family that returns each year to have a litter of pups, and another farm births calves in the spring and so a mountain lion frequents that area – yes, mountain lion! My family and I have seen the mountain lion about a half dozen times in the same area each time. Folks should be much more concerned about the wildcats then any other animal, especially the bears. Bears will flee from humans nine times out of ten, bobcats and mountain lions are born stalkers, and they will stalk your small pets and barnyard animals, and even you if they are desperately hungry.
For almost twelve years, I have lived in my house in the woods, and for fifty plus years I’ve been a New Marlborough resident. I have to say that I have not seen bears that many times, but I have seen the cats, coyotes, and wolves a lot, as well as fishers. Fishers are another very dangerous animal to family pets and chickens – one family in our area found all their chickens decapitated and strewn all over their yard. Fishers kill for the sport and this incident proved it as they only ate a couple and left all the rest. The following is from the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife website, “The fisher (Martes pennanti), is relatively common in many areas despite the fact that it was once eliminated from Massachusetts. Considered by many to be a strictly wilderness species, the fisher is now appearing in more populated areas.” We had a nest of Phoebes destroyed by what we believe was a fisher, because of the telltale sign of decapitation, as first they eat the head, and leave carcasses behind. My family and I on at least a dozen occasions have seen a very large bobcat that frequents our area each winter, probably attracted by the possibility of catching a domesticated animal when food supplies in the woods are limited in the winter. We have seen a big black wolf, and we have seen a white one two times, yes, a wolf, not a coyote. Each sighting of the wolves has been at a neighboring farm.
We all need to take responsibility, face the reality of living in the country, learn, and become educated about wildlife. A strong suggestion – keep an eye on your pets when they go outside, left unattended, they do not have a chance against the wildcats or fishers. Dogs don’t necessarily scare wildlife away – regular visiting wildlife become accustomed to the barking and eventually learn it is not a threat.
In conclusion, Mass Audubon has a slogan, “conserve your corner of the world!” I intend to protect and preserve my little corner, and do all I can to help save our planet. It can start right in your own home or in your backyard. Numerous agencies exist, many in Southern Berkshire County, and throughout Massachusetts, that are committed to saving our natural resources and wildlife. I have closed with two favorite quotes, and have then listed agencies you can contact to learn how to live with the wildlife, and what you can do to help protect our plant and wildlife species native to New England. As Fall fast approaches, the wildlife will be more diligent and determined to find food, so expect to see them more often as we head toward winter. The bears in particular, as they need to store up calories for their winter sleep. Please be aware and pay attention to mother nature, she really has all the answers we will ever need.
The National Wildlife Federation asks, “Why Care? The threat to our nation’s imperiled wildlife is immediate and real. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the environment and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home.”
Noted Canadian conservationist David Suzuki describes this challenge well, writing: "I am often asked, 'What is the most urgent environmental problem confronting us?' My answer is the human mind, the beliefs and values it clings to. Where once we understood that we are dependent on, and interconnected with the rest of nature, the modern mentality believes that we have escaped this reality. Our big-city lifestyles, the fragmented explosion of information, the very nature of scientific reductionism, and the assumptions underlying modern economics all shatter the sense of interconnectedness and blind us to the consequences of our actions. Our most urgent challenge, therefore, is to rediscover our place in the natural world."
http://www.fws.gov/ – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
http://www.massaudubon.org/ – Massachusetts Audubon
http://www.nature.org/ – The Nature Conservancy
Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, October 2006