Article is too long to be in one post only - so it will be in three shorter posts.
Monday, Dec. 09, 2013
America's Pest Problem: It's Time to Cull the Herd
By David Von Drehle
Faced with an outbreak of lyme disease and rising deer-related car accidents, the city council of Durham, N.C., authorized bow hunting inside city limits in November. Authorities in San Jose, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley, voted to allow hunting wild pigs within that city in October. Rock Island, Ill., one of the five Quad Cities on the Mississippi River, recently approved bow hunting in town, provided that it occurs in green spaces--golf courses, parks, cemeteries--or on private land. In Maine, new rules doubled the number of birds that wild-turkey hunters can take home this year and gave them an extra 30 minutes before sunrise and another 30 minutes after sunset to bag them. Ohio granted its deer hunters a similar overtime, stretching the hunting day into darkness.
And in New Jersey, despite protests and a spirited lawsuit, the fourth annual black-bear hunt will start bright and early on Monday, Dec. 9. A small army of hunters, their names chosen by lottery, will begin combing the forests between Philadelphia and New York City in a six-day season designed to cope with what has become a bear boom of unsustainable proportions.
Across the country, hunting is poised for a comeback, and not just because the folks on Duck Dynasty make it look like so much fun. We have too many wild animals--from swine to swans. Thirty million strong and growing, the population of white-tailed deer in the U.S. is larger today than it was when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, according to National Wildlife Research Center scientist Kurt VerCauteren. They gobble up crops and vegetable gardens, dart into traffic and spread tick-borne diseases. Then there are the wild hogs. From a little herd imported to feed explorer Hernando de Soto's 16th century expedition, some 5 million feral pigs are rooting through city parks and private lawns in 48 of the 50 states. "There are but two kinds of landowners in Texas," wildlife expert Billy Higginbotham of Texas A&M likes to say, "those with wild pigs and those who are about to have wild pigs."
And beavers. Nearly wiped out in the 19th century, they're back with a vengeance. In the Seattle suburb of Redmond, beavers are felling ornamental trees not far from Microsoft headquarters to build dams in the drainage culverts. Bald eagles are back too; one has been feasting on pet dogs near Saginaw, Mich. Raccoons bedevil the tony North Shore suburbs of Chicago. The world's largest Burmese pythons are no longer found in Burma; they are flourishing in South Florida. Wild turkeys swagger through Staten Island, N.Y. The yip of coyotes competes with the blare of taxi horns in New York City and Washington, while a fox has lately been in residence on the White House grounds. At least one mountain lion has had its photo snapped while hanging out in the Hollywood Hills. On Nov. 20, a conservation officer shot a wildcat hiding in a concrete tunnel under a corncrib in northwestern Illinois, far from the nearest established breeding population, in South Dakota.
Whether you're a Walmart employee in Florida wondering what to do with the alligator at your door, a New Yorker with a hawk nesting on your high-rise or an Ohio golfer scattering a flock of Canada geese, you now live, work and play in closer proximity to untamed fauna than any other generation of Americans in more than a century. Even as the human population climbs toward 320 million in the U.S., plenty of other creatures are flourishing too.
This was no sure thing. A child born around 1930 stood a pretty good chance of outliving the last white-tailed deer in the U.S. Abundant when the first European settlers arrived, the brown-eyed beauties had been hunted nearly to extinction. A sense of loss, even doom, hung over the U.S. publication of Felix Salten's novel Bambi, translated from German in 1928 by a left-wing intellectual named Whittaker Chambers. But Walt Disney, among others, imagined a different ending. As Chambers morphed into a conservative and the child of 1930 approached her teen years, Disney's studio made Bambi into the animated masterpiece credited with helping turn a nation in love with Buffalo Bill into the conservation-minded America of today.
The psychic shift symbolized by Bambi reshaped the population of American fauna so dramatically that one Saturday morning early this year, a child born around 1930--Dorothy Pantely, 83, of the Pittsburgh suburbs--witnessed not the extinction of the deer but rather the sudden arrival of two whitetails in the hallway outside her bedroom. Thinking quickly, Pantely activated her emergency medical alert. When police showed up, they found the picture window smashed, the carpet damaged, the adult deer escaped--and a frightened yearling left behind. "It was just the worst thing ever," Pantely said afterward.
Too many deer, wild pigs, raccoons and beavers can be almost as bad for the animals as too few. This is why communities across the country find themselves forced to grapple with a conundrum. The same environmental sensitivity that brought Bambi back from the brink now makes it painfully controversial to do what experts say must be done: a bunch of these critters need to be killed.