Living With Wildlife in Newton – Part 1

“Living With Wildlife in Newton – Part 1” provides background perspective on the phenomenon of why we see more wildlife in Newton these days. Animals find the suburban habitat and available food sources well suited to their needs. The proximity of wildlife sometimes leads to conflict.

Reasons for this change were presented by Colleen Olfenbuttel, staff member of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in her 2005 lecture at the Newton Free Library, sponsored by the Conservators. She noted that all of these animals were living in the forests of New England when European settlers arrived in the 17th century. They disappeared after the trees were cut for timber and the land cleared for farming. By 1840, much of the soil was exhausted, farming became more difficult, and people moved to richer lands of the Midwest or sought their fortunes in large cities with the coming of the industrial revolution. Since that time, our forests have returned, and now an estimated 70% of Massachusetts is covered with second growth. This has led to restoration of wild animal populations, with the exception of wolves and mountain lions, entirely extirpated from the Northeast through bounty hunting. As housing has exploded into rural areas, with developments rising in forested landscapes, human encounters with wildlife have increased. Suburban gardens, shrubs, fruit trees, and bird feeders provide tempting food for many wild creatures, and garbage added to mulch piles or left outside in trash bags spells “dinner” for raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. Crawl spaces under porches and garages attract these same animals, and also foxes, as dens for rearing young. With hunting prohibited, large predators absent, food supplies handy, and living space provided, why should they forego such comforts?

Living with wildlife in our surroundings is a source of pleasure for most Newton residents, but we find some challenges in our attempt to maintain a healthy and happy coexistence with these new species as they return to their rightful domain. In order that they may be protected and continue normal patterns of behavior in the wild, it is important that they not become dependent on humans for food and living space.

This episode covers in detail the return to the suburban environment of deer, fox, moose, bobcat, raccoon, coyote, and fishers.

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