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Our Messy Relationship With Urban Wildlife


A caller to OPB's Think Out Loud program about urban wildlife shared the story of a squirrel who was stealing her prayer flags. (Screen shot from video.)

A caller to OPB’s Think Out Loud program about urban wildlife shared the story of a squirrel who was stealing her prayer flags. (Screen shot from video.)

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OPB’s daily radio program Think Out Loud had an interesting discussion this week about our daily encounters with nature and wildlife in our urban areas. Host David Miller spoke with Lyanda Lynn Haupt, a Seattle-based naturalist and author of the new book The Urban Bestiary. She encourages the idea of being ‘gracious co-inhabitants’ and explores the our mixed feelings about being with urban wildlife — like squirrels, coyotes, raccoons — in our everyday lives.

Listen to the full interview:

It was a fun conversation, especially here in the Northwest where many are inclined to be friendly with our wildlife neighbors. As my toddler becomes more aware of the critters in our neighborhood, I find myself wondering the most healthy way for her to experience urban nature.

In one segment I found interesting, Haupt speaks about ‘teachable moments’ for wildlife we encounter, a concept she learned from urban coyote biologist Stan Gehrt. She notes that there is no ‘black and white’ for how we deal with wildlife:

Haupt: I asked Dr. Gehrt, what do you do when you see a coyote? He introduced this idea of a teachable moment. He said, every time a human encounters a coyote it’s a chance for the coyote to learn how to live in an urban environment where there will be tolerated. To increase chance of tolerance for something as wild and carnivorous as a coyote, they have to be as wary and as invisible as they possibly can. So, yes you want to chase them away, throw a stick, have them feel that … they can hang out, but not too close. Not really be seen.

Miller: Which is counter intuitive, right? Because, if we’re talking to so many people who like the idea of welcoming animals … but you’re saying the best way to be a good neighbor, in this case, is to scare them away, push them away.

Haupt: It is. It’s hard, too. Here’s this great researcher. I said that to him, that very thing, that people think about harmony, we think about being welcoming. For me personally, when I see — even though I absolutely understand what he’s saying, and agree with what he’s saying — when I see a coyote, which is very rare, I don’t want to chase it away. I want to watch it for as long as possible. He said, ‘Uh, me too.’

And in what Dave Miller called the ‘Portlandia moment of the week’ a caller, Jan, shared several stories of close encounters with various animals, including this hilarious one:

The most cute story I have is squirrels stealing my Tibetan prayer flags in the backyard… I actually posted on YouTube one of the squirrels coming down taking off the prayer flags, folding it up into a little package. And then putting in it’s mout and then running up the tree and putting it in the nest. I’m assuming it’s the nest, because a couple of years later I would find these ratty pieces of prayer flags that would falll down when they are finished.

Check out the video below, which she posted on Think Out Loud’s blog.

— Toni Tabora-Roberts