Ahh, the cool crisp feeling of fall – what a great time for a walk in the woods! For many of us, a walk in the woods evokes pleasant memories of previous hikes and camping trips and also holds the potential of seeing wild animals in their wild habitats, such as watching a rabbit nibble in a field of wild dandelions, or maybe observing a deer alertly drink at the streamside. Recently, the types of wildlife to be seen in our local woods have increased. Predators are making a comeback in our forests. Marten, fisher and coyote populations are increasing in our area but the return is not welcomed by all.
Predators are wild animals that hunt other animals for food. Most of the time, predators prey upon the weak, old, and sick animals in a population, leaving the healthy and robust individuals to reproduce. In this aspect, predators play an invaluable role in keeping balance in the ecosystem. If predators were eliminated, their prey, the plant eaters, could (and have) alter the vegetation to the point where the specific habitat no longer supports native species which reside there.
With a growing carnivore population, however, often comes conflict. Some people enjoy watching coyote pups romp across the field while other folks are quite unnerved by the sight of a coyote stalking a rabbit near their well-tended gardens. Coyotes and fishers have even been known to prey on cats and small dogs. And, like our local raccoons – as many of us are so often reminded, coyotes are opportunistic feeders and will raid unsecured trash cans. This can led to habituation and food conditioning – a situation where wild animals are no longer afraid of people and instead see them as providers of food.
We have to learn how to be good neighbors in order to co-exist with the expanding (both in number and geographical range) carnivore populations. We must keep our pets leashed and close by us when outside of the house. Chickens and rabbits should also be securely penned up at night to prevent potential confrontations with not just coyotes and fishers, but also with our other, readily accepted carnivores as well.
As an avid hiker and nature lover, I look forward to getting into the woods this fall to see the changing of the leaves and to watch the ever-so-busy squirrels hoard food for the impending winter and maybe catch an overhead glimpse of the last birds flying south. Personally, I am thrilled that the predator populations are returning. The thought of having an animal in our forest that is watching me as much as I’m watching it is exciting. I remember the first time I unsuspectingly walked upon a coyote in the woods. I was alone and though I was informed enough to stay calm and enjoy the moment, I admit that the primordial hair stood up on my arms and neck. The encounter was brief and invigorating and I remember that I have never been happier to not have been a rabbit.