By Rebecca Shankland and Branden Willman-Kozimor
The Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC), proud of "connecting with nature at our back door," found ourselves in the midst of quite a bit of wildlife this past month with deer, bear, two weasels (we're still debating whether longtail or shorttail), and a squirrel all stopping by for a visit.
As a certified Wildlife Habitat, we encourage wildlife at our nature center on Orange Street. We provide sources of water, food, shelter, and places for raising young (have you seen our new bluebird houses along the nature trail?). We do not use pesticides on our vegetable or native plant gardens. All in all, it is a good place to check out if you are a local critter or one just passing through.
Like many people in Los Alamos, we provide food for birds not just for their sakes but for our own--because we enjoy their beauty and can learn about their habits and migratory patterns. But as always there are unintended consequences of our good intentions. On the evening of June 30, we were visited by a guest we had not seen before at PEEC. Though well meaning, we're sure, this visitor was not an ideal house guest. At first we thought a band of vandals had struck, maliciously tearing up our bird observation area. Bins were tipped over, garbage strewn everywhere, bird feeders broken or knocked to the ground, and forty pounds of birdseed missing. As we surveyed the damage, we suddenly realized that this was not the work of bored teenagers but of the very thing we are trying to attract--wildlife!
Black bears have been seen around Los Alamos more frequently than any other summer of recent memory. According to the NM Department of Game and Fish, this escalation of bear activity in town is due to a spring with very little moisture, creating less food in the forests and a greater incentive for bears to seek food near human habitation.
By mid-July, the Department of Game and Fish had already trapped and relocated four bears from Los Alamos, which leads to the question: Can we co-exist? The wildlife agency thinks so, but we all need to help to minimize unsavory bear activity in town. The Department of Game and Fish makes the following recommendations:
For the sake of the animals and ourselves, we should avoid attracting them to our yards. As the Department of Game and Fish notes, "In many cases, bears that become a nuisance have to be killed because they have become habituated and show no fear of humans." We're learning to be responsible wildlife lovers, even if that means attracting fewer of the birds and other small critters we'd like to see, at least until the bears are back in hibernation.
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