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Know the West

Rewilding is a two-way street

A letter from your neighborhood deer.

 

Dear Readers,

Judging by the mask-free faces I’ve encountered lately, I’m guessing that life is returning to normal for many of you humans. That is the reason for this letter, on behalf of my fellow cervids and the many other species who share your cities, neighborhoods, sidewalks and lawns.

You’d probably rather forget the past year. But we’ve had a very different experience: Roads that were once perilous to cross became pleasantly quiet. A surge in home gardening left us plenty of new rosebushes and other edibles to feast upon in the early hours of the morning. And during the day, we got to know many new and friendly faces, seen through the windows and on the porches of previously empty homes. We were starting to hope that this might become the new normal: more food and fewer cars.

Sadly, it now appears that more of you than ever are venturing outside and, worse, are back out on the roads. This makes our own lives more challenging, but more than that, we worry that the newfound and fragile peace we’ve developed with humans will soon be broken.

A young deer looks at roses — a favorite — in a California backyard.
Lux Blue/iStock

You see, we members of the urban wildlife community have long found ourselves at odds with humans. You need look no further than the media to see reports of conflicts across the country. Just in the past year alone, coyotes have “terrorized” residents of San Jose. Peacocks are “ruffling feathers” across Los Angeles. And wild turkeys have “overrun” Spokane and other towns across the Pacific Northwest.

Rural areas are not exempt from human/wildlife conflict. Throughout the West, ranchers denounce wolves for attacking their cows and sheep. Beavers have long been vilified for disrupting human-engineered creeks and streams. And let’s not forget about all those pigeons and possums and racoons who never seem to find a welcome spot in anyone’s yards, let alone their hearts.

Some people say we should be “managed” or “culled.” But let’s not sugarcoat it: You want us killed, like any other household annoyance. Consider our struggles here in my hometown of Ashland, Oregon. Not long ago, many residents were calling for our execution, accusing us of stalking and attacking humans — a simple misunderstanding really; we tend to overreact when dog walkers get a bit too close to our young.

One might think that we would be more comfortable in the forested hills that surround this small town. But have you ever gotten in the way of a mountain biker coming at you at high speed? I don’t mind telling you that I may be more comfortable dodging automobiles than those crazy humans on bikes.

And then there are controlled burns. Fires, in small doses, can be good for the soil, and they keep grasslands from becoming forests (and we do love grasslands). But burning is now a year-round routine in the Western states, done to keep towns safe from wildfires. That’s all well and good for you humans and your homes. But what about us? Where are we supposed to go when our food supplies are suddenly charred? Can you really blame us for seeking out the relative safety of your freshly watered lawns?

Can you really blame us for seeking out the relative safety of your freshly watered lawns?

Hunters will tell you that they can take care of the deer population. Just let ’em loose with their guns and arrows, and problem solved. Except that it doesn’t always work that way. We’re territorial, much like humans, so if a few of us die, others will quickly assume their places. And let’s dismiss the myth that humans are needed to manage our population. It turns out that wolves do a much better job: A recent study in Wisconsin found a 24% reduction in deer and vehicle collisions since wolf recolonization began. (And, yes, we deer do read the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.)

[RELATED:https://www.hcn.org/issues/52.1/wildlife-when-wildlife-safety-turns-into-fierce-political-debate]

Wolf populations are rebounding because humans have embraced rewilding, the idea of letting nature go back to being nature. And I’ve got good news for you — rewilding took a huge leap forward over the past 18 months.

But rewilding is a two-way street. As we become more visible, especially in places you’ve never seen us, you may need to rewild your own worldview. Drive more slowly. Keep your eyes open. And don’t fret if you see us on your lawns. Rewilding is not just about letting a few species run free far away from human civilization. It’s about allowing our world to cross over into your world. But we’re willing to give it a try if you will.

And there is a huge upside to urban rewilding. As you return to your offices and begin to daydream about escaping into the wilderness, take a moment to gaze out your window. The wilderness is coming to you.

Respectfully yours,
An American Deer

This letter from an American deer was transcribed and submitted by John Yunker,  cofounder of Ashland Creek Press, author of the novel The Tourist Trail and editor of Writing for Animals. Learn more at www.johnyunker.com

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