When we moved onto our small farm in 1989 there was almost no ground bird population and only one pair of Turkey Vultures. So rare were the raptors (of all kinds- owls, eagles, Osprey, hawks) that bird watchers would come from all over New England to catch a glimpse. By the time we left, in 2007, on any summer afternoon, there were over ten Turkey Vultures flying. Similarly, in 1989, there were no bear sightings, no Mountain Lion either. But by the time we left, weekly roadkill on the Hutchinson River Parkway of Mountain Lions had the police worried. And bears regularly walked through our high-tensile electric fencing as if it wasn't even there.
What happened in those 18 years? DDT finally leeched out of the system and the food chain came back – insects- birds-rodents-and the predators they feed. Our population of Bob White quail went from zero to a regular flock of over 30 spotted any beautiful June day.
But make no mistake, the result of eradicating DDT is not enough. All across America there are vast deserts of wildlife now. For example, you can drive through Kansas and Missouri trying to spot birds for hundreds of miles and see none. Your windscreen hardly has any splatter at times there now. That death zone is being blamed on Roundup which depletes the natural weed feed for wildlife, but no one is sure. What is sure is that we're creating deserts for wildlife – and this comes at a time when we're just beginning to understand the inter-connectivity of wild existence with our sustainability. For example, if the bee population continues to dive, half of your food supply is gone. Period. No more apples, corn, beans, peas, celery, cotton, nuts, soy, fruit, and on and on. Kiss them all goodbye.
On the other hand, living with wildlife is not easy, you have to be prepared. A bear, especially a Black Bear which may well want to eat you and yours, is a powerful creature. If angered, it can swipe the head right off of a sheep. One blow. A Mountain Lion will usually flee from humans, but a running child or jogger has proven too tempting from California to the Midwest. The NE is not immune to such stalking either. One really has to be aware and careful. And in case you think the danger is from such easily spotted creatures... over ten years ago I was helping chase and round up some cows for a neighbor along the Ten Mile River, running through the tall grass. I felt a sharp smack at the back of my calf... it stung but I ran on... when I got home and changed, there were two clear Copperhead fang holes in my calf and black blood vessel traces going down to my ankle. I got off lightly, but if I had been a child?
So, the balance here is that humans cannot live without wildlife and a balance of nature. But similarly, humans cannot live easily with dangerous wildlife and nature. We need to allow the one and learn how to co-exist with the other – not to do so is the certain failure of our sustainability. We're smart enough as a species, providing we get over the urge to have everything easy and without obvious risk of wildlife. It is the invisible risk of extinction – of us! – that may need more careful watching.