Sunday, January 10, 2010

*Tahoe Area Bruin's Answer to Suburban Encroachment

It's common knowledge that as sprawling McMansion complexes and strip malls move further and further into what's left of "undeveloped" land, the locals can get a little restless.

Last Summer I was walking down a trail (later I discovered it was a private trail, but that wasn't the only reason I never came back) and happened upon a gazebo overlooking a lake. It perched just above the water, and I could see fish, minnows, turtles, quite clearly beneath the surface.

I was minding my business, enjoying the rare quiet, when a moccasin side-wound its way just beneath the surface of the water, a couple of feet from where I was standing. It slowed down as I backed away, and as I snapped a few shots with my phone, it coiled back - even as it swam. (I previously didn't know snakes were capable of this kind of multi-tasking). I backed away onto the gazebo deck, and it continued to stare at me from under the water. Had it struck,it would have had to aim at me from between two foot-thick pieces of wood that made up the rail - however, anything with no arms or legs that can simultaneously tread water and coil to strike should not be underestimated. Just as I was working out my next move, (as if I'd gotten that far), it swam toward the bank.

I have no idea if it made its way onto land or swam off. It would suffice to say I went to some effort to avoid that area as I left.

Walking back to Mom's that day I encountered a deer, and later saw an alligator meander by me in the river alongside the trail. It was only a ten-minute walk. I felt like Rudy Mancke. Only I wasn't about to approach any of these creatures, who were living right next to a budding new housing development.

I was left to wonder where these animals would go when the houses came. After all, they were there first, though that's hardly a reason in the corporate world to give wildlife their space.

In fact, I would imagine that the new property owners and the local species may happen upon more than a few chance meetings. There may even be a subtle territorial dispute. The animals will not win. They'll be trapped and relocated at best, and at worst killed unceremoniously so the manicured grass will be safe and nature-free.
Surely there is bound to be wildlife out there that doesn't go quite so quietly. (Ever seen "Over The Hedge?" If not, see it soon).

That evening I relayed the story to my Mom's neighbors. It was then they informed me this was private land, and to be careful - as I could be arrested for trespassing. The irony was not lost on me.

Sure you hear stories of animals learning to "coexist" with humans (with or without human cooperation) in large cities perched near the wilderness. But what about here in the US, where urban sprawl is spilling uncontrollably into the landscape that drew people there to begin with?

Such a story surfaced this week, and I am very much pulling for the wildlife in this case.

The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that a brown bear, estimated at 700 lbs, has figured out how to break into homes and raid the fridge.
While no one has reportedly been killed by a brown bear in the past 100 years, the locals are terrified. When animal control is called and actually manages to approach the beast, it casually walks off.

Some have reported shooting the bear, which does not seem to have had an effect. In fact, these tales are corroborated by apparent scarring on the animal's face.
The citizens of Incline Village have come to call him "Bubba."

Since Bubba is a brown bear, he does not hibernate, and will continue to feed year-round. He has figured out when garbage pick-up days are, and walks around traps as if they're nuisances to be casually avoided.

"I have a refrigerator in the garage. He opened it up, drank a gallon of orange juice, opened the freezer above and munched two frozen pizzas and snacked on frozen chicken," Philpott said. "He broke all the shelves and racks out of the refrigerator, bit into some fruit punch and squirted it all over everywhere, then dragged the trash can outside and took a crap the size of a basketball on the front lawn." The Chronicle reports local Bill Philpott as saying. Apparently Philpott replaced the garage door a few months ago, and Bubba has already made light work of it.

I want to make one thing clear - I realize that with a booming population comes the need for housing. The only way around our population growth is controlled reproduction, which will not be a fact of life in this country. However, there must be a means of coexistence in place if we're to continue to enjoy our environment. That's an easy thing to say, I know. But it makes it no less true.

I want our suburbs to be safe for children - if an alligator were within ten feet of my nieces or nephew and I thought it was aggressive, I'm sure I would be looking for a way to kill it (as much as I love those animals). But the alligator and its ancestors were there long before any of us. Who are we to impose property rights? There must be a solution somewhere, though I can't claim to know what it is.

As far as Bubba is concerned, I don't imagine his outlook is too bright. I'll be "rooting" for him. I'll follow this story and let you know how it turns out.