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WILTZ: Our nation’s wild critters have learned to adapt to our lifestyles

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My brother-in-law, Al, lives in a modestly affluent neighborhood south of 57th Street in Sioux Falls. He’s an avid gardener faced with a major reoccurring problem — plant-eating whitetail deer. While eating breakfast at the kitchen table, I watched a pair of coyotes frolic about the yard. I was at my sister’s house in Mokena, Ill., a Chicago suburb. These critters are the norm, not the exception.

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The Dec. 9, 2013, edition of Time magazine carries the story “Time to Cull the Herd” by David Von Drehle. I knew that some of our nation’s wildlife was adapting well to urban environments, but I had no idea how serious the problem was until I read Von Drehle’s article. What shocked me was Von Drehle’s solution to the problem — widespread hunting seasons within city limits. Until now, I hadn’t expected to see an endorsement for hunting in Time magazine.

The above-mentioned deer and coyotes are a major concern, but they are far from being our only expanding wildlife problem. The article cited one example after another about new hunting seasons already in place. Durham, N.C., just wrapped up a bow hunting deer season. Durham’s problems with car accidents and lyme disease had become overwhelming. San Jose, Calif., had an October pig hunt within city limits. New Jersey hosted its fourth annual black bear hunt between Philadelphia and New York City. In 1970, New Jersey’s bear population was an estimated 50 bears. By 2009, it hit 3,500 bears.

Turkeys are a problem in Staten Island, N.Y. Beavers are dropping expensive ornamental trees in Seattle suburbs. Bald eagles have been dining on puppies and small dogs in Saginaw, Mich., and Chicago’s affluent north shore suburbs are losing a battle with raccoons. New York City has a coyote problem, and a fox is living on the White House grounds. Many cities, including Atlanta and Houston, have a wild hog problem. Other than rooting up lawns, the pigs carry swine brucellosis.

While rabies are commonly carried by raccoons, beaver, fox and skunks, alligators and Burmese pythons are more than just a threat to southern Florida citizens. And don’t forget about the California cougars that take out an occasional jogger. For that matter, our own Spearfish residents are more than a little bit aware of mountain lions. On our home front, remember the recent story about a whitetail buck visiting a Mitchell apartment?

Von Drehle’s story mentions the urban hunting seasons are well thought out. Archery hunters are generally preferred to rifle hunters. This certainly makes sense as a high-powered bullet could pass through a number of walls and still kill someone. In some cities, elevated stands are mandated so the bow hunter is shooting down instead of across. City parks and cemeteries are also designated hunting areas in some locales.

This brings to mind a pleasant old memory. While I was deer hunting near Wessington Springs years ago, I visited Grandma Blanche in the nursing home. Seeing my orange vest, one of the residents signaled for me to come over to him. He whispered, “If you’re not seeing any deer, try the cemetery.” I passed on his advice, but I’d bet he was right on.

I’m pleased hunters are providing a solution to a growing problem. Our image as hunters needs all the help we can get. I’m also pleased that in spite of some potential problems, people, including some animal rights advocates, see hunting as the only practical solution.

When I first envisioned archery hunters in our cities, I pictured some folks finding a dead deer under their deck or in their garage. Let’s face it. A deer well-struck by an arrow can run 40 to 300 yards before going down. Home owners would have to recognize the need for hunter trespass rights.

The Time article did not mention which particular animal was causing the most problems, but I would suggest deer as they are probably the most wide-spread. A 13-foot alligator in the entry way of one’s apartment is a problem, but it’s more or less confined to the Florida area, as are the pythons.

Pigs, followed by coyotes, are also right up there. Pigs from Florida to California and Texas to Kansas cover a large area. The story said there were two kinds of Texans — those who had pigs and those who were about to get pigs. As much as I love pork, pigs can be disgusting. One morning early in our marriage, we woke up to find our yard plowed from corner to corner. It was as if giant roto-tillers had attacked during the night. Our neighbor’s pigs from a half mile up the road had made an escape.

For those cities/communities contemplating a hunting season within city limits, the Time magazine article will certainly give them some support and encouragement. There is another plus for the urban hunting seasons. The deer, and perhaps the hogs, generally go to a local food pantry.

Pheasant decline issues

A couple of things. The first, deadline for spring Turkey applications is Feb. 14.

Though the folks our governor appointed to the new pheasant task force are good people, it left me with the impression that the governor thinks politicians can solve the problem. That’s a scary thought. Neither the cause of the pheasant decline nor the solution are rocket science problems. 2012’s drastic drought conditions caused the decline and diminishing habitat contributed. It’s about Mother Nature and money. See you next week.

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