On my way through the kitchen one morning in June, I spotted two yearling deer cavorting around the front yard. It looked like they were dancing to a lively tune.
The day before, writing at my home-office desk, I glanced out the side window and saw a hen turkey under the front yard apple tree. She was dusting — rolling and scratching in the dirt. Soon, a huge tom arrived, all puffed up, and stood watching her. A few minutes later, another smaller tom joined them. Eventually, they wandered across the road.
Two weeks ago, looking out the big picture windows of my office, I saw a beautiful mature bald eagle land on a flat rock in the stream. He sat there, glancing down into the water, and suddenly dipped a claw and pulled up a fish.
I sometimes toss mice, caught in traps in the basement, out front under a large tree. About a month ago, a fox trotted out of the woods, across the lawn, and into the bushes right to the spot where I toss the mice. Now I know what happens to those mice.
Mating raccoons awakened me the other morning, screeching out on the front lawn. Groundhogs and skunks are a constant problem. Beavers chop down trees right in our yard. And then there are the geese.
Two geese with five goslings have been wandering up onto the lawn from the stream. I rush out, shout and chase them away. They are pooping machines, health hazards, and not welcomed on the lawn. So the uproar over the collection and killing of 18 geese in Oakland drew my attention.
Those who challenged the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service for killing the geese should read Jim Sterba’s book, “Nature Wars.” From the sad to the sensational, Sterba tells us how and why burgeoning wildlife populations have “turned backyards into battlegrounds.”
Every chapter contains important lessons in how poorly we have managed wildlife populations, to the point that we are literally overrun with them. It covers the entire landscape of issues from sprawl to stupidity. This is truth-telling at its finest, with plenty of statistics and case studies to prove his points and leave you alarmed.
Sterba wraps it all up this way: “This book is not about environmental loss or dire straits. It is about too much of a good thing in the United States. … In our little corner of the planet, the losses have been eclipsed for a moment by a regrowth of forests and an overabundance of some wild species. Our battles over critters and trees are mainly about how to deal with excess, and while they are being fought we tolerate enormous cost and waste — because we can afford to.”
Sterba’s chapter about geese illuminates the mistake we made in Maine by bringing geese here from other states beginning in 1965 to establish our own breeding population. These geese have everything they need right here in Maine, so they don’t migrate north as the rest of their species does to nest and have babies. Yes, our geese are now year-round residents, but not the kind of year-round residents we want. And their populations have skyrocketed.
Maine wildlife officials noted correctly that there is no place left to relocate these troublesome geese. Nationwide, problems caused by invasive and exploding populations of wildlife resulted in the killing of 4 million animals by federal officials last year. Yep. Four million. Perhaps that will help you put the deaths of 18 geese into perspective. To paraphrase Sterba, we tolerate enormous killing.
The public’s lack of understanding about nature is a real problem for wildlife managers. Which brings us right into the bald eagles’ nest. The Biodiversity Research Institute has maintained a webcam at a coastal Maine eagle nesting site since 2006.
This year one of the two eaglets killed its sibling, appalling viewers, who also noticed that the adults didn’t seem to be feeding the remaining eaglet. Maybe because he’d been bad?
Well, not really. But as the demands poured in for wildlife officials to do something to aid the eaglet, Eryn Call, a Maine Fish and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist who specializes in raptors, offered one of the best explanations I’ve ever heard.
“The purpose of these cameras is to observe the natural process of nesting eagles,” Call told John Holyoke, a Bangor Daily News reporter. “And that natural process includes fledglings dying, starving to death, being killed by their siblings, adults stopping feeding them if there’s not enough food, and sometimes it does involve a happy ending with both birds surviving.”