Lots of people move out to the country to escape from society and get closer to nature. (We did.) This is all well and good, but more often than not that human-wildlife interface becomes difficult for both sides. On the Front Range, for example, dozens of black bears are killed by wildlife officials every year because they show little or no fear of humans and are regularly caught breaking into homes and businesses to scavenge for food. Many more are hit by cars. Mostly, this is because we continue to encroach on the bears’ territory, and because ignorant humans continue to place unsecured trash in places where the bears can access it.
Here on Quiet Farm, then, one of our biggest challenges will be how to live in harmony with our local wildlife, rather than against them. For us, deer pressure will absolutely be the largest issue we face. There are thousands of deer in the nearby area, both whitetail and mule; we’re also surrounded on three sides by apple orchards, which attract deer and lots of other creatures who love fresh, crunchy apples, too. As we plan our vegetable beds for next season we’re still debating how best to protect those vegetables from the deer; these animals can do thousands of dollars of damage in one hungry night and we have no interest in opening an all-you-can-eat salad bar.
We’re seeing a lot more deer lately; in the summer they generally live high up on the mesa, but as the snows have come and their food sources have dwindled they’re moving their way down towards us. We’ve toyed with fishing line and strongly-scented perennial herbs, but we’ll probably end up with an unattractive (but hopefully effective) nine-foot deer fence. That said, we’ve watched deer leap a six-foot fence without even slowing down, and we often see them in the orchard, which is theoretically protected. Of course, human error prevails – the orchard fence is regularly left open by careless workers.
Driving in this area, particularly around dawn and dusk, is especially risky. Deer-car collisions are common; the side of the main highway is littered with carcasses and many of the locals’ cars show evidence of deer encounters. The deer population here has virtually no natural predators (except for SUVs) and as such, most of the animals appear mangy and unhealthy because there are too many fighting for the same food sources.
I’d braise this if only I could catch it.
We don’t see many rabbits, but there are certainly a few around. We seem to have a fairly healthy raptor population in the area, which helps keep rabbits and mice mostly under control. Because of these raptors we are militant about not using any sorts of poisons for our pest problems; while we might find burrowing animals to be a nuisance, we have no interest in sending aggressive poison up the predator chain. There are other, safer ways of dealing with our pests – we just haven’t discovered them yet.
Speaking of rabbits, we also believe that coyotes and foxes keep their numbers low. While we haven’t seen many coyotes or foxes yet, we’ve definitely heard them braying and yipping at night. Foxes often use irrigation ditches as “highways” and as safe places for their dens and kits, and irrigation ditches are more common than paved roads around here. We expect that once we have chickens we’ll be seeing foxes and coyotes a lot more often.
Gorgeous and destructive.
Since we’ll be growing without chemical pesticides and insecticides, smaller creatures like grasshoppers and other ruinous bugs will create difficulties for us, too. The best we can do is start with healthy soil, healthy seeds and healthy plants; like humans, plants are best equipped to fight off attacks when they start strong. When you’re tired and run down you’re more likely to get sick, and the same goes for plants. We can keep our interventions to a minimum if we focus on creating the healthiest ecosystem possible.
We’ll also do everything we can to encourage beneficial predators, like bats, ladybugs, flycatchers and other species that will help keep voracious bugs under control. Nature wants diversity and variety to keep everything in balance, and we want to help as much as possible.
See “Caddyshack” for further information.
Not long ago, I was out walking near our tiny downtown; in an empty lot I noticed a pile of what looked like compost: mushy avocados, overripe fruit, random vegetables. I walked closer to investigate and promptly got shouted at by a man on a nearby patio. “Don’t disturb that,” he yelled. “They’re very shy!”
It turns out the man and his wife were feeding a marmot family. This is foolish, irresponsible and disrespectful both to the marmots and the human neighbors. Have they thought about the fact that the marmots will become dependent on this food source, and when the house doesn’t have fruits and vegetables to share, the animals may well die? I’m fairly certain that avocados aren’t part of a marmot’s natural diet, anyway. (The avocados were whole, and they still had the little stickers on them.) We’ve got neighbors who feed the deer, too, even with all the “natural” food sources available, and this will make protecting our crops even more difficult.
Tricky little creatures, and difficult to see. And that dead tree needs to come down.
Friends, we leave you with this: please, please, please don’t ever feed wildlife. Ever. If you live in a bear-prone area, please secure your trash. Human feeding compromises animals’ ability to find their own food, and makes it substantially more likely that the animal will be killed. And don’t take selfies with them, either. They’re not pets, and they’re not in a zoo, and they should be left alone. All of these animals play important roles in the food chain, and we need them. If we want any hope of maintaining biodiversity in an extremely threatened environment, we must find an appropriate balance in living near animals without impacting their existence too much.