The new animal voyeurism

Captured on film but still losing habitat.

 

I’m watching two mountain lions slip down the trail, haunches swaying, their long, tufted tails slung low behind them. The sight elicits in me a certain electric excitement that I can’t quite place. They move with a kind of nonchalant ease, as if aware of their status as apex predators. Had I encountered them in person, I almost certainly would have been breathless, my heart racing. But I was on my couch, staring into my iPad, watching trail-cam footage captured at night on my go-to front-country trail. The video was posted on Nextdoor, where a stream of comments had accrued, layer upon layer of surprise, wonder, appreciation and awe.

Sunrise over the Green River in the Browns Park area where Utah, Wyoming and Colorado meet.

Similar clips from wildlife cams, security cams and doorbell cams proliferate on Nextdoor. A new one appeared today: a bobcat this time, followed by a skunk. We seem to enjoy knowing who else is out there and what they do when we’re not there to see it. Commenters often respond with surprise that such creatures are “right here in our backyard!” They will even use those words, our backyard, to describe the foothills or the front country, as if the animals had somehow stumbled into the exclusive domain of the human species. But the truth is quite the opposite: It is we who are the encroachers. Habitat loss due to development is a major cause of threatened and endangered species across the West.

Even as new homes, subdivisions and strip malls push ever farther into the wildland-urban interface, enthusiasm for the wildlife “in our backyards” abounds online. I’m reminded of two black bears whose paws were badly burned during California’s 2017 Thomas Fire, which raged for 38 days. The bears were rescued and given temporary paw pads made of tilapia skin, so that their own paws could heal underneath the protective covering. In January 2018, they were released back into the mountains, and months later radio-collar data suggested that they seemed to be doing fine. While tracking the details of this incident, I found a large number of stories: not just in the LA Times and Ventura County Star, but Smithsonian, The New Republic, Mashable and Weather.com. National Geographic even posted a video of a veterinarian suturing fish skin to one of the bear’s paws. It’s a heartwarming story, a beautiful illustration of human concern for the well-being of other animals. But what gets missed in those moments of caring are the thousand thoughtless daily decisions it took to create the conditions for the unseasonable, unprecedented fire that burned those bears and torched 440 square miles of habitat for all manner of creatures.

Being good neighbors to wildlife — especially to apex predators — requires more than a tweet or a like or an awe-inspired comment. This issue’s feature story looks at wolves in Colorado and Wyoming, where their protected status is in flux. There is perhaps no more controversial animal neighbor in the West. Their recent delisting as a federally protected endangered species has led to a new patchwork of state laws, including one in Idaho that could allow the killing of 90% of the state’s wolves. Without protective laws, it’s not clear if humans can be good neighbors to wolves, allowing them places to howl plaintively and bed down safely with their pups.

Jennifer Sahn, editor-in-chief

The other night, on the same trail where the mountain lion video was captured, the animal noises grew increasingly persistent as I finished a hike after sunset. There were trills and screeches, flutters and scampers, and even some uncharacteristically loud footfalls in the brush. For my one set of eyes, focused mostly on the trail ahead, there were a multitude of others. Birds winged overhead, while others roosted in trees, calling out as night fell: This is where I am. I’m happy. I am just here singing my song.

Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....