How to help wildlife through the human zone

This bobcat kitten was brought to the Wildlife Center from a backyard.

By Katherine Eagleson, Wildlife Center, Española, 06/30/14

In the United States we have done a pretty good job of saving scenic places. A lot of wildlife lives in those places.

But when a drought lingers year after year and depletes food sources, or a wildfire burns the habitat to dirt, or maybe it’s just time for the youngsters to move out, make a life of their own, spread the gene pool, how do we accommodate wild animals’ need to move?

Badly, that’s how we have done it so far. We have not planned well to give wildlife the corridors they need to move safely between habitats. We have also misled the public by giving the impression that wildlife managers can collect wildlife from backyards and parks and homeowners’ association properties and transport them to some wilderness nirvana.

Unless there is a carefully planned project to reintroduce wildlife in an area where they have been removed, most wild mammals that are transported to new areas probably do not survive. Wild animals are much better at finding suitable habitat for themselves than we are at finding it for them. Their greatest challenge is getting to the habitat, negotiating the highways, housing developments, shopping centers, Army bases, fenced properties, big dogs, roaming cats, and fast cars that lay between one island and the next.

A corridor is defined as a strip of land forming a passageway. Where are the corridors for wildlife? Efforts are being made to create them across busy highways or to put private land into conservation easements that allow animal movement.

But in many places there is no longer any unoccupied land between island habitats. Your backyards, small arroyos and neighborhood parks become corridors. Many yards now provide the most suitable habitat around for wildlife as prolonged drought and fire have destroyed traditional habitats.
New housing developments and homeowners’ associations spring up in previously open areas without consideration of what wildlife has used that land for the last 1,000 years. When the houses are built, human inhabitants call the animals “nuisance” animals or dangerous and want to keep them out. We can’t, not without a lot of dead animals.

We must come together with wildlife experts to develop non-lethal strategies for getting wildlife through human-occupied zones.
We need conversations regarding how we can live with a bobcat with babies at the back of the yard until they are old enough for her to move them. Can we put off painting the portal until the screech owls have fledged the young in the nest built there? Can we organize wildlife watch programs to let neighbors know a bear is moving through, bring in your bird feeders, keep your garbage in the garage?

We need strategies. We need cooperation. We need new attitudes. Let’s start the conversations.

Contact Katherine Eagleson at katherine@thewildlifecenter.org, (505) 753-9505.