Living With Wildlife
Wildlife, like all other animals, are seeking food, water and shelter for their families. Whether we live in the hustle and bustle of a big city, or a quaint and quiet rural community, one thing is for certain: the wild animals around us are part of a complex ecosystem that includes not only ravines and woods but streets, backyard and construction sites.
There are two factors that tend to drive wild animals towards urban and semi-urban environments. First, the loss of habitat makes survival for some animals more difficult, driving them into previously unexplored territory. Second, the human-provided food sources in urban and semi-urban environments are abundant, and readily available. Like all animals (including humans!) wildlife love an easy meal. The literature shows that conflicts between wildlife and humans (and their pets) tend to arise when wildlife become habituated to humans. Luckily for us, these conflicts can be almost always avoided by applying some basic, common-sense techniques.
To prevent wildlife conflicts:
- Do not feed wildlife. This shows animals that humans are a valid food source. We want them to believe the opposite. Table scraps and leftovers should never be left outside.
- Keep pet food indoors. This can attract wildlife to your property and can cause territorial behaviours to develop around that food source.
- Remove excess bird seed from your lawn. Excess seed will not only attract birds, but rodents, rabbits and squirrels too, which will in turn attract larger, predatory animals.
- In the summer, remove fallen tree fruit. This attracts rodents, which will in turn attract larger, predatory animals.
- Keep dogs attended, and ensure small dogs are leashed. Do not let your dog chase wildlife.
- Keep cats indoors. From a coyote's perspective, there is no discernible difference between a cat and a groundhog.
- Secure garbage and compost with tight fitting lids, ideally making them inaccessible to scavenging animals.
- Rinse all recycling food containers well.
- Keep a clean and tidy yard. Remove old woodpiles and keep sheds in good repair.
The Role of Municipal Bylaws:
Because intentional and unintentional feeding is almost always behind human-wildlife conflicts, you can also work with local government to enact a 'Wildlife Feeding' bylaw in your community. These bylaws are a great tool to stop irresponsible wildlife feeding when other approaches don't work (e.g.: appealing to the feeder that providing a coyote with dog food impacts the entire community). These kinds of bylaws exist in municipalities across the country, with some emphasizing certain species, and other pertaining to wildlife as a whole. Some examples include Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Thunderbay, Squamish, Coquitlam and Chilliwack.
About Bounties or Predator “Culls”:
In semi-urban or rural areas, there can be problems when predator animals (such as wolves and coyotes) attack farmed animals. While exercising responsible husbandry would almost always prevent such problems, instead the agricultural sector is often keen to support bounties on wolves and coyotes. For example, due to pressure from farmers, in November of 2009, the Saskatchewan government introduced a five-month “coyote control program”. It offered hunters, farmers and ranchers $20 per dead coyote as long as all four paws were brought in. Over 71,000 coyotes were killed and the final cost to the taxpayers was approximately $1.5 million.
The science shows that bounties on predator animals such as coyotes or wolves are ineffective because the remaining animals will quickly reproduce to fill in the available ecological niche. Studies also show animals such as coyotes naturally increase their litter sizes in response to the lower population density. Also, removing a large number of animals within a short amount of time can have a disastrous effect on the ecosystem as a whole. For example, when wolves were being exterminated in Yellowstone Park in the United States in the early 20th century, it resulted in a soaring elk population. This larger elk population led to the decline of aspen, cottonwood and willow trees that were crucial components of natural habitat for birds, beavers, and other animals. In addition to those problems, the coyote population skyrocketed, dramatically reducing the population of deer and ground squirrels, which then negatively impacted the mid-level predators like foxes, hawks, owls and pine martens. The downward spiral of the ecological balance within Yellowstone Park persisted until the successful re-introduction of Canadian grey wolves in 1995. More information on the ineffectiveness of culls and bounties can be found here.
Relocation tends not to be an option for most wildlife conflicts. There are three reasons for this. First, relocation is an issue since wherever the animal is relocated to will already have established animals in the area, and territorialism can be a potential threat to survival. Second, simply removing an animal can separate a family unit, which can lead to the death of dependent animals. Lastly, and most importantly: simply removing a 'nuisance' animal does not address the root cause of the issue, it merely creates a vacuum in the environment. It is highly likely that a new animal will simply move in and repeat the behaviour. This is not to say that there are NO cases where an animal can be relocated. For example, Sherri Tippie out of Colorado has successfully relocated more than 500 beavers, with each case effort carefully assessed and planned for.