Wildlife helping keep city healthy
From the snowy imprint of moose hooves to tiny zipper-like bird tracks, winter hiking trails in Red Deer offer plenty of visible reminders that we share our city with urban wildlife.
“The tracks are a good indication of a healthy environment,” said Ken Lehman, the city’s parks planning and ecology specialist, who believes the more biodiversity we maintain, the better our ecosystem.
However, “you don’t necessarily want those tracks in your yard,” he conceded — for no matter what time of year it is, Lehman regularly hears from residents with animal nuisance concerns.
Coyotes are sometimes blamed in the disappearance of small pets, noisy crows for strewing alleyways with household garbage.
A growing hare population can be held responsible for damaging trees and ornamental shrubs, and skunks can discomfort homeowners by breeding under porches and decks.
“We have actually gotten requests from people to remove all the skunks from the city — and first of all we can’t do that,” said Lehman.
The city only deals with beaver problems — provincial Fish and Wildlife officers handle the rest on a priority basis.
“But I also have to remind people that even skunks have their place.”
He tells complainants that the musky mammals keep down the numbers of mice, voles and insect pests within city limits — as do crows and magpies.
“They have an essential role,” said Lehman, who likes to educate residents through the city’s website, which lists what homeowners can do to help preserve a natural balance.
For instance, many different shrubs can be planted that won’t draw large ungulates into yards.
Trees can be wrapped with wire mesh to prevent rabbit damage.
Bird feeders can also be caged off to stymie the unwelcome appearance of magpies. And pets can — and should — be kept on a leash so they do not threaten wildlife.
“There’s a proper way to keep these animals wild and not feed them so they are better adapted to survive,” he said.
For the past few years the City of Red Deer has been discouraging residents from throwing bread crumbs at the Canada geese that arrive every spring at Bower Ponds.
The ‘don’t feed’ signs appear to be working, since gosling numbers have decreased — along with goose poop on the lawn and algae buildup in the water, said Lehman.
Although no studies have been done on wildlife within city limits, parks workers believe the deer and coyote populations have held steady — although the rabbit/hare count has grown due to a natural 10-year cycle.
If the hares get too numerous, there’s a chance the predatory population of coyotes will similarly spike for a few years, said Lehman.
But he believes it’s only a matter of time before both species naturally decrease — as has the number of urban skunks in Red Deer.
Skunks were at the height of their eight-year cycle three or four years ago, and their population has since dropped off — along with skunk-related complaints, added Lehman, who tends to hear more animal concerns from new neighbourhoods, “as we move more into their territory.”
But in the big scheme of things, he believes the majority of Red Deer residents appreciate occasional sightings of deer, foxes and hares within city limits. These glimpses usually come at twilight or daybreak, since most animals move at night.
“There are loads of wildlife tracks and it’s amazing to see how many critters are moving through the urban environment.”
For more information about coexisting with wildlife, please go to www.reddeer.ca, and then click on city government, city services, and parks department.