The Kenwood Press
: 06/15/2017

Urban wildlife goes mainstream

Sharon Ponsford

poster of a racoon
A sign from New York City’s “Wildlife NYC” education campign.

I just returned from San Diego where I was attending the International Urban Wildlife Conference. Not knowing anything about it, I accepted an invitation from a colleague to join a panel she was assembling to speak on Ethical Wildlife Control. I’m so grateful that she offered me this opportunity as I came home energized by all the knowledge I absorbed about the many things that are going on, not only in this country, but in other parts of the world, in regards to wildlife.

Most conferences I go to are for wildlife rehabilitators. This one cast a wider net. There were biologists, ecologists, public officials from numerous agencies, people representing parks departments (regional, state and national); academics studying wildlife; representatives from conservation organizations, zoos, and natural history museums; people studying the effects of sound and light on wildlife; veterinarians, and many more. There were topics on all creatures great and small. It was somewhat overwhelming, but good to get outside of my own little world and know that so many people are working on wildlife issues.

Urban wildlife is becoming more of an issue as human populations continue to grow and push into habitat that was previously wild. It’s clear that we need to learn to co-exist with wildlife, but how? How do we educate a public that tends not to know or understand much about wildlife? How do we work with the media, who invariably sensationalize any story about wild animals?

Some of the more interesting sessions to me were ones where city planners talked about implementing wildlife corridors so that wildlife can safely cross roads or areas that are dangerous for them. These projects are very expensive and require years of planning. The correct place to put corridors has to be determined, land has to be acquired not only for the corridor but the area around it. The most ambitious project is the natural looking bridge that is currently being planned for the Santa Monica Mountains. It will be 200 yards long, 165 yards wide, and cross over an eight-lane freeway, making it the world’s largest wildlife corridor. The completion of this will enable the famous lion, P-22, to cross and possibly find a mate. The lions in that area are in serious trouble because the gene pool is now so small that inbreeding is occurring. Of course the corridor isn’t just for P-22, but using his image has proven very effective for raising funds!

A problem we don’t have here is bears getting into trash. The city of Boulder, Colorado, had a big problem. Black bears were being killed or relocated every year. One year there was a huge public outcry when four bears were killed. The public loved their bears. Finally Boulder realized that getting rid of the bears did not solve the problem. What they needed to do was figure out a way to keep bears from getting into the trash. They started by designing bear-proof trash cans which they then sent to a Grizzly Bear refuge in Montana, where the bears tested them. They baited the cans with fish and meat, so the grizzlies would really want to get in. When they designed a can that passed the grizzly test, they had them made for residents. Since they started using the new cans no more bears have been killed. This is a win/win for residents and bears.

Would it occur to you that New York City would have a division in their parks department devoted to wildlife? It didn’t to me, but I attended an excellent talk explaining the new program called Wildlife NYC. It is an educational campaign to teach New Yorkers how to live responsibly with wildlife. They have a very wildlife friendly website that informs about the various animals New Yorkers might encounter. One of my favorite things they are doing to increase awareness is putting posters on subways, buses, and streets featuring local wildlife by stating that they are New Yorkers, too!

Sitting at my desk in tiny Glen Ellen, I am so thankful now knowing that people all over the world are including wildlife in their thoughts and plans, giving wildlife a voice before it disappears.