There are so many wildlife stories in these parts this newspaper could run a whole section on the subject right along with the sports section.
Whether it’s songbirds, coyotes, washed ashore dolphins, or the seals, sharks and bear that have been preoccupying us in recent months, the deep story connecting all the stories is the contemporary romance of wildlife. It’s a n almost universal theme in our time, especially in outdoorsy Cape Cod: we cherish wildlife of all sorts. Irresistible sentiment; but there are problems.
A big story on the front page this morning on the first regional public meeting to air concerns about great white sharks. Many object to the shark-killing contest on Martha’s Vineyard and find exhilarating the idea of this large exotic beast prowling our coast. But what if beaches increasingly have to be closed, which became an issue after the guy was bitten on a Truro beach?
If I have this right, because our love of wildlife led us 40 years ago to take pity on seals with legal protections against hunting them, we now have sharks and seal poop threatening our own enjoyment of the beaches. Our love of wildlife ends up biting us in the rear end, so to speak. Should we lift the restrictions against hunting seals? Should we start going after great whites ? (But we can’t do that, we love wildlife.)
Just how much do we cherish this formidable form of wildlife? Enough to give up our own recreational needs (or tourist dollars)?
For a while the big animal story was the bear who decided to check out the Cape, rambling our full length. Just a token bear, so far at least, although he was here long enough to raise the question, what if he and his kind decided to settle amongst us: how many bears would it take to make your daily walk in the woods feel dangerous?
This bear was the first of his kind in collective memory because our predecessors took a much less welcoming attitude toward its predecessors: they killed them so the woods would feel less dangerous.
Coyotes were a big issue when they first made it across the bridges in the 1980s and ’90s. What a blessing, we said, to have this wildlife reappear amongst us. On the other hand they were gobbling up small dogs and cats like finger food.
Keep your pet indoors, said the coyote lobby, pointing out that cats in any case consume a small mountain of songbirds in a lifetime.
Well, I love songbirds, said pet owners, but I live on the Cape so my pet can enjoy the great outdoors.
Yeah, but coyotes were here before Europeans.
And so on, back and forth, for years. I don’t remember that the conflict ever got resolved but it seems to have died down. Have we learned to share territory with coyotes?
This summer a secondhome owner in Truro had a problem with a fox nursing its kits nearby. What was the animal control officer going to do about it? The officer had little sympathy.“We can’t do anything about it. She’s a wild animal. She’s allowed to be there. Why don’t you get out your camera and take some pictures?’”
And of course insofar as it’s first come first served, we late comers have no rights at all.
It would be really hard for a lot of us to bring ourselves to admit that we should come before other animals, mainly because “other animals” doesn’t sound right. We don’t think of ourselves as animals. At least we are the erstwhile wildlife that has graduated to kindly wildlife manager. Not so long ago our way of managing threatening wildlife was to kill it. It was in fact the success of this policy that enables our romantic love. And it is our romantic love that keeps us from being able to think straight about animal issues. `
Makes the head hurt just trying to follow the twists and turns. We could use a permanent commission for the sole purpose of bringing wisdom to bear on the contradictions of sharing territory.