, Salem, MA

October 2, 2012

Our view: Wildlife encounters grow along with civilization's footprint

The Salem News

---- — When wildlife and residential life collide, the results can be unsettling — or worse.

Such was the case recently when a coyote ran into the yard of Pamela and Ron Crawford of Derry, N.H., then attacked their two miniature pinschers, out for their evening romp.

Spanky, 10, died as a result of the attack. Spike, 13, will survive.

Pamela Crawford said she thinks a dog should be safe in its own yard.

But as humans demand more elbow room, shopping plazas and highways, wild animals are forced to adapt. That often means bears, deer, moose and, yes, coyotes, are turning up in places they might not have been seen a decade or more ago.

Animal control officers and wildlife experts in New Hampshire and the North Shore point to road improvements and the associated retail and residential development as factors in the increase in wildlife sightings in backyards in heavily populated areas. The Salem News police notes are full of items about deer, coyotes and wild turkeys traveling freely through backyards and down local roads, startling residents, menacing pets and causing traffic problems.

Many animals, particularly coyotes, skunks and possums, are opportunistic feeders; they will eat whatever’s easily accessible. More often than before, those easy meals may be someone’s pet.

There are some easy ways to protect the family cat or dog. Cats should be kept indoors; ask any local feline rescue or animal shelter. They are easy targets for marauding wildlife.

Dogs should be kept on a leash or secured in a fenced-in area, with a watchful human nearby.

The Crawfords did what they could to protect their six dogs, installing an electric fence designed to keep their canines in their yard. That worked, but it didn’t keep the coyote out. They now plan to add a chain-link fence.

It is also important to maintain a sense of perspective. Coyotes do some good, too, feasting on rats and other rodents that can destroy a farmer’s crop. Fish and game experts say they pose little danger to humans.

And there are ways to work with nature, not against it. Last month, our sister paper, The Eagle-Tribune, reported on a plan to develop a sanctuary within the Musquash Conservation Area for the endangered New England cottontail. New Hampshire has less cottontail habitat than any other New England state.

The rabbits have fallen prey to human development, foxes — and coyotes. The proposed cottontail habitat would take 15 years to develop and would involve cutting lots of trees. Timber sales will help fund the project and may benefit the town, too.

The balance of nature is tricky business. Human intervention is not always a bad thing, but maintaining predator-prey relationships can result in individual distress or heartbreak.

That’s small consolation to the Crawfords, mourning the loss of their Spanky.

But the cycle continues, sometimes with humans bearing the cost of their encroachment, sometimes with humans working to repair the damage they have wrought.