How to protect natural animal habitats

Though birds or other small animals may routinely gather on your property, what if you one day looked out and saw a black bear lapping up water in your swimming pool? That’s what happened to Cheryl Pawelski of Altadena, Calif., in the hills not far from Los Angeles, during the summer of 2013. After losing interest in the water, the bear retreated to the hills.

In early 2014, a woman in Cicero, N.Y., saw three coyotes in her backyard while taking her dogs outside for their morning walk. And while people who live near the Florida everglades are accustomed to seeing alligators, a woman in Skyesville, Md., was surprised to find one roaming in her yard in August 2013.

Stories such as these have become more common in recent years. Urban sprawl in many areas of the country and across the globe is quickly encroaching on many natural animal habitats, and wild animals are increasingly being found in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. Removal of trees and other habitats removes natural food sources and shelter, forcing animals to forage closer to residential areas to stay alive. This is potentially dangerous to people and animals alike.

Bear, wolves, deer, ducks, and many other animals are commonly struck by motor vehicles, leaving them severely or fatally injured. According to various insurance companies, an average of one million automobile accidents involving deer take place each year, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are paid out as a result of such accidents.

In normal situations, many wild animals are content to avoid human contact and actually retreat at the sight of people. But when faced with hunger or when feeling threatened, animals may become confrontational. Men and women can take various steps to help preserve natural habitats and prevent run-ins with animals.

• Be aware of building plans in local areas. Attend meetings to find out which areas may be impacted by new housing or commercial real estate. Speak up if the plans seem to encroach on natural habitats.

• Join a wildlife conservation organization. Become involved in spreading the message about conservation and what can be done to protect local animals. Without the hard work of such organizations, animals may become endangered or extinct, which nearly happened with the California condor population.

• If your home abuts on a park or conservation area, be considerate of property borders and behaviors that can impact the habitat. Do not mow past the property line or dump debris and other materials in undeveloped areas. Avoid the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides.

• Keep the yard free from food or other things that may prove irresistible to wildlife. Bear-proof garbage pails can reduce the risk of bears wandering onto your property.

• Alert conservation personnel or animal professionals of stray animals in the area, never taking matters into your own hands. Animals can be safely restrained and transported elsewhere, and organizations typically keep records of animal sightings in residential areas.

• Exotic animals do not make the best pets. Some habitats are threatened by non-native animals that have been released by former pet owners. Do not release fish, reptiles, birds, or other exotic pets outdoors. If you can no longer care for the animal, contact a nearby animal care facility.

Man and wildlife have been able to coexist for centuries. But as more land is consumed for building and business, animals and people are crossing paths more often, and such encounters can be dangerous.