Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In the midst of the wild


By JOELLEN COLLINS

This morning as I sat at my computer shortly after sunrise, I witnessed yet another example of living among the wild creatures so close to us. I am a morning person, and I like to turn on my computer, check the (mostly spam) e-mails that may have come in the night, and observe through my north-facing window the awakening of life in Ketchum.

I was about to take my small dog out for her early-morning toilette when I saw three foxes streaking over Knob Hill and across the highway. The first and biggest was in hot pursuit of a smaller furry creature far enough away from me that I couldn't tell if it was a squirrel or a tiny cat. They all vanished from my sight for a few minutes, and then I saw the leader depositing an animal in her mouth on the snow bank of accumulated storms along the highway. Some tussling ensued with another fox over the remains, but then both were distracted and turned back towards the original point of conquest. Oddly, as I write this over two hours later, the furry remains are still on the snow bank. I would have thought by now that one of the foxes would have returned to gather them up for a meal.

I am not a biologist, so my first conclusion that they must be well-fed foxes may be suspect. However, if they were truly hungry, one would think, they would have kept the spoils. I have yet to face going outside near that point and determining whether it is someone's pet or not.

At any rate, this little tale is just one of many that I hear or read about of the unhappy ways in which we, as humans encroaching on nature's former preserves, view many native animals. A few months ago, in what has become an experience all too familiar to Wood River Valley drivers, I encountered a nearly dead deer on Highway 75 just north of Hailey. The collision of animal and vehicle must have just happened because the poor creature was still twitching. It was late at night and, to tell the truth, I didn't know who to call or how to warn oncoming cars that there was a barrier in the middle of the road. I didn't have a cell phone with me anyway, but I felt especially grieved when I thought of that poor creature in agony. Of course, I also feared for the drivers after me who would have to stop abruptly. I have learned since then that there is at least one sign near Hailey telling people to call 911 in the event of an animal on the road and that one can also call the Department of Fish and Game.

Every time I drive through Fairfield towards Boise, I try to stay aware of animals that might cross the highway unexpectedly. Certainly all of us know someone who has encountered a deer, bear, coyote, mountain lion or elk too close to home or auto.

I don't think there is much we can do about this crowding of wildlife so near, short of enlisting our most base instincts to kill off all our foes. After all, these critters were here first. But I have started thinking more seriously about some of the measures we can take to cohabit with them.

First, I can take care of my own dog's safety. I usually stand with my dog while she relieves herself in front of my condo, doggie bag in hand. But the other day when she saw the foxes and started to dash towards them, I realized that I may have to take her out for even this short distance on a lead.

I am also coming to the thought that we might have to stop feeding those "cute" little guys when we see them. The two large raccoons who visited my deck looked very well fed, as do the foxes. I am as mushy as anyone about loving God's creatures, but maybe we have to let nature take its course. The recent controversy about elk feeding in Sagewillow illustrates my point.

Finally, I am wondering if we can have some method for warning oncoming drivers about dead animals on the highway, like a universal light or horn signal.

All of us, in our lovely homes in the valley, need to raise our consciousness about this conundrum. How do we inhabit even this small corner of the Earth in peace with our other animal neighbors?




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