Recently, neighbors in a Lincoln County, Maine area are suing a woman for feeding wildlife. They have been trying to get her to stop feeding squirrels and chipmunks, because they say the wild animals she attracts to her home are getting into their homes and yards and causing costly damage. One neighbor is quoted as saying, “The chipmunks and the red squirrels are getting into my house and destroying my furniture every winter.” Others claim mice, rats and skunks are also attracted to the area, because of her efforts to feed wildlife.
It’s easy to see both sides of this legal issue. Feeding birds, squirrels and chipmunks seems a perfectly normal and humane thing to do! It’s fun to watch squirrels chomping on seeds and nuts, or chipmunks stuffing their cheeks full of food. People like to watch these animals and don’t see the harm in helping them get through the winter.
On the other hand, deliberately attracting wildlife to your yard affects everyone around you. It can range from simple annoyance at cleaning up dropped seeds or nut shells to having squirrels nesting in your chimney, wall or attic because your neighbor likes to feed the squirrels. Squirrels can cause a great deal of costly damage to a home, chewing on electrical wiring, soiling and destroying insulation, infesting the area with mites or other bugs, and attracting further wildlife, like mice, rats, raccoons, skunks or snakes.
Most wildlife protection agencies agree that feeding wild animals can actually end up harming them, by making them less capable or willing to seek out their natural food sources. Their diets change, making them weaker or sick. And, they become less afraid of humans, which endangers both them and people.
The closest I’d ever been to a coyote was when some friends and I were hiking and camping in the mountains of Northern Utah. We’d stopped for a break while hiking, when my friend pointed to a cluster of trees about 2 football fields away from us. An animal bounded out of the cover, moving fairly quickly. At first, we all assumed it was a deer, because it was about the height of a deer, a brown/tan color, and moved easily through the underbrush. Then, I noticed the bushy tail and the fact that it wasn’t “bounding” so much as “loping quickly.” We concluded it must be a coyote and finished our hike, since it didn’t get anywhere near us.
But, then, a few years later, I took up running. I especially liked running early in the morning, just as the stars start to fade and the day begins and everyone is still sleeping. It’s a time of day that feels secret, unsullied by life’s daily worries. Then, I turned a corner and came face to face with it. A coyote in my neighborhood. Well, when I say face to face, I really mean it was about four houses away. Coyotes can run fast, up to forty miles an hour, and I knew I had no chance of outrunning it if it decided to charge.
There was a timeless, breathless moment as I stared at the coyote in the neighborhood, wondering if I was about to be seriously hurt or maimed, and what I could possibly do to stop it. They say you’re not ever supposed to surprise a wild animal, as if the world was populated by idiots who enjoy sneaking up on natural predatory creatures and yell “Boo!” If I’d known there was a coyote in the neighborhood, you can bet I wouldn’t have been running alone at that time of day, hoping to surprise it.
That coyote just looked at me and finally simply turned and walked off in the opposite direction, without another glance at me. I made it safely home and immediately texted the Home Owner’s Association president to let her know we had a coyote in the neighborhood. And, I think I’ll take up swimming.