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Editorial

Around Our Town...Game and Fish


Coexisting With Urban Wildlife



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02/01/2006 - As Wyoming's towns and cities grow, many people suddenly find themselves co-existing with wild animals.

"Every day people and wild animals are forced into closer contact," said Robin Kepple, Casper Region information specialist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "A ranch becomes a housing development; a few acres of woods become an industrial park; wildlife habitat gives way to urban sprawl."

While additional housing, bigger stores and more restaurants might be appealing to most Casper residents, sprawling communities put a lot of stress on wildlife populations. "Urban sprawl hurts wildlife by changing the natural landscape on a permanent basis," Kepple said. "When you develop open space, build houses, and pave roads, these are changes that are not going away. Such changes force wild animals to adapt or perish."

According to a 2005 report by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, this permanent change on critical habitats makes sprawl one of the most pressing issues facing wildlife and wildlife managers.

In fact, habitat destruction and fragmentation — the division of habitats into smaller, disconnected pieces — are believed to be the primary reasons for the decline of many species.

Instead of a large continuous landscape, it is broken into a patchwork mosaic: small sites of original habitat separated by lawns, houses, roads, and buildings. Wildlife can no longer travel from one patch of habitat to another without coming into contact with humans. The effect this has on wild animals varies from species to species.

While sprawl displaces many wild animals, others manage to adapt — and oftentimes flourish — in these new habitats. Deer, raccoons, pigeons, skunks, ravens, squirrels, coyotes and many other species have learned to live — and even thrive — in human environments.

"The result is a rising number of conflicts between people and wildlife, particularly car-animal collisions. In addition there are more squirrels in the attic, skunks under the porch, raccoons in the garbage and deer in the garden," Kepple said.

So what can communities do to limit fragmented habitats? First, they can engage all stakeholders — private individuals, companies, government agencies, and nongovernmental conservation groups — in protecting habitat from fragmentation by educating them in the value of keeping ecosystems intact and healthy. Community governments can also adopt growth management plans that identify and protect critical wildlife habitats.

Meanwhile, residents learn to co-exist with their wild neighbors by practicing the following recommendations:

While many of us enjoy songbirds in our yards, large amounts and prolonged use of wild birdseed will attract not only wild birds, but also rabbits, squirrels, mice, deer and other mammals. These prey animals will in turn attract larger predatory animals.

If you do feed wild birds, put out only small amounts of seed at a time and clean up any spilled food from the ground. Table scraps, leftovers and other human foods should be discarded and not left outdoors for wild animals.

Do not keep pet food outdoors.

Pick fruit. Apples, grapes, berries and other fruits will attract a variety of wild animals. Pick your fruit as soon as it ripens and keep rotted fruit off the ground.

Make your trashcans inaccessible. Keep trashcan lids securely fastened or keep the cans in your garage until trash day. Ammonia or pepper in the trashcan may also discourage scavenging wildlife.

Battery operated flashing lights, tape-recorded human noises, scattered mothballs and ammonia-soaked rags strategically placed may deter wild animals from entering your property.

Be a good neighbor. While you might enjoy seeing deer or other wildlife in your yard, your neighbors might prefer to keep the wildlife at a distance. Be a good neighbor and don't encourage wildlife to become dependent on you.

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