Discouraging public... "Remove the wildlife!"

Lately, it seems like I've had a lot of requests for presentations on dealing with 'nuisance' species... Coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, opossums... It's actually a bit of a bummer.

A few weeks ago I gave the most difficult presentation I've ever had to do to an angry group of homeowners that wanted nearby coyotes trapped and removed. I tried my best to stick to the message... Don't feed the wildlife, control trash, and hazing techniques... Alas, these folks didn't want to hear any of it.

Outside of that presentation, there's just been an influx of calls and emails about 'nuisance' species. Not gonna lie -- it's discouraging.

So, I'm curious how other naturalist/nature enthusiasts respond to the "let's get rid of it!" response... I guess I'm just fishing for some novel or convincing lines that you use when talking about the importance/value/appreciation of wildlife.

Oh, and iNat is where I go to get encouraged again. :)

Posted by sambiology sambiology, March 10, 2020 22:14

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"So, I'm curious how other naturalist/nature enthusiasts respond to the "let's get rid of it!" response...- Can we curse here on iNat? :P

Seriously though, I wonder if these folks would respond to some kind of risk assessment type of talk, where you show them all the much riskier things there are in their day to day that might harm them or their pets, then show them some data that demonstrates the unlikely probability that wildlife will harm them. Maybe you already do this, but this approach has always worked on me. I would think it would be easy to find data on how many dogs or cats are poisoned, hit by cars, etc. every year vs how many get eaten by bobcats or coyotes.

Funny, I just listened to a pretty great episode of Stuff You Should Know Today - "How Coyotes Work" Josh and Chuck did a pretty good job as usual of informing the public about coyotes in a positive way.

Posted by tadamcochran 3 months ago (Flag)
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One lady told me I should call the exterminator to get rid of the ants that were roaming around in the garden plantings *outside* our building -- I am the volunteer gardener.

I told her. "The world belongs to them -- it does not belong to us."

I don't expect that to convert anyone, but it is the truth. I guess the average person these days grew up in a city, and has no understanding of the great web of Nature. They don't understand that Nature created us and supports us, and that without it we are all dead for sure.

They think the whole wild world is just a decorative garden that exists for their entertainment, and anything that ever behaves in an unwanted fashion should simply be eradicated.

Perhaps you can tell them cautionary tales about what happens when you try to eradicate a "nuisance" species and the whole thing backfires on us, ending up making our situation worse, not better.

Posted by susanhewitt 3 months ago (Flag)
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car accident fatalities vs. coyote accident fatalities

...remove cars?

Posted by briangooding 3 months ago (Flag)
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Oh, also.....in that podcast I mentioned, they talk about all of the coyote eradication efforts over the decades and how it always fails miserably. Now the wisdom is, if the coyote doesn't demonstrate aggressiveness, it should be left alone because if it is removed, another more aggressive one may take its place - and one WILL take its place. Maybe scare them with that. :P

Posted by tadamcochran 3 months ago (Flag)
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Sam, get you a bunch of images with coyotes carrying dead rats in their mouths, bet there are several in iNat, I know a google search brought up quite a few, the bigger the rat the better. Show those images, might go a long ways towards changing some minds.

Posted by kalamurphyking 3 months ago (Flag)
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I copied this quote from "A Sand County Almanac" written by Aldo Leopold - - "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot." Living simply and in harmony with nature , that's why I love my iNat tribe.

I try and educate the people I come in contact with, whether country folk or city dwellers, but most just shake their head at me. It's easier for them to squash all spiders and bugs and take a hoe to every snake than to take the time to learn about them. Global warming won't eradicate the human race but stupidity just might.

Posted by itmndeborah 3 months ago (Flag)
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I hear this a bit too. I had a win today though talking to a lady about pesticides/herbicides in lawns and the problems they cause for pets. She's going to cancel her lawn treatment for next week! I know it's hard to keep positive about educating people when there seem to be seas of idiots. @markpyle is a great positive force as well, and I've learned from his determination and positivity.
You are a great ally to all of the creatures, Sam. Every person you educate might help someone else to think as well. You have every right to feel down about this fight every now and then, but I know you'll keep doing a great job.
*hugs*

Posted by k8thegr8 3 months ago (Flag)
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I have had a professor in the building by my Pollinative Prairie get on to me about "bringing bees to campus". I have a camera that has captured coyote footage. I have struggled with letting that be known. I have been learning how to deal with discouraging people a lot lately. I guess what I do is ask them what is their specific concern, or why they feel that way. Then I acknowledge the fear, concern, etc. It seems that once they feel they have been heard and acknowledged, they then can hear my scientific answer. Sometimes it works...

Posted by baxter-slye 3 months ago (Flag)
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I always run to you for help with how to deal with my nuisance issues. (And by that I mean residents, not animals.) I find that by the time they are talking to me about it, they are too far irritated to be rational or listen to kill-alternatives. I still try to listen (actively) and acknowledge, and gently persuade with facts, but it's really a waste of breath when someone is ticked off that nature is interfering with their home/garden/pet, unless you can give them time to calm down. I think the best approach is always multi-faceted: Widespread proactive education (your coyote video should be mandatory viewing for all home sales in DFW) is the best way to prevent an issue, but once it happens, react with empathy and then shake it off like Taylor Swift. When possible, I have tried to follow up with the complainant a couple of weeks later to see if things have improved. Even if they haven't, they see that I'm concerned about their problem and willing to help find a resolution that works for everyone.

Posted by kimberlietx 3 months ago (Flag)
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Sam, I feel your pain. Recently on Nextdoor people were posting about coyotes around a new subdivision locally how they were dangerous and how they should be killed. I gave the message, do not feed them, do not leave trash out for them to forage, do not let your small pets out unattended, etc. I actually thought I wrote a nice elegant rationale and gave good advice. Well one response I got is I love my family more than you love your family, we need to eradicate these dangerous animals. My mental response, which I did not post, why in the world did you buy a house in the middle of coyote habitat!

A different example I was birding, and iNatting, with a friend a few weeks ago and we saw a coyote trot by, Liz and I were marveling on the beauty of the coyote and several others on the same board walk, were talking about how the dangerous coyote.

I am wondering if the key to this was understanding why people are so scared/concerned about these animals and from that understanding (which I do not) a new narrative to resolve their concerns can be found?

Posted by scottbuckel 3 months ago (Flag)
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Sam, I don't have any words of wisdom regarding information you can present. But take heart! Your tireless efforts to keep putting information out there will impact the public. And that's how real change starts. These folks may go home and start to marinate on the information you give, or it may have sparked an interest for them to learn more. I saw the clip of you on WFAA regarding coyotes, and it was thoughtful and impactful. Keep up the good work, the good fight. Your efforts on iNat personally inspired me to pay more attention to flora and fauna around me. Your talks will do the same for others.

Posted by texslm 3 months ago (Flag)
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I've been following climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe Ph.d at Texas Tech for the past year. She experiences the same kind of resistance to science. Her standard suggestion on how to deal with this kind of opposition is to find common ground on the subject and then talk about it. You might listen to her TED TALK to see how she deals with opposition...not coyotes but same problem.

Posted by eangler 3 months ago (Flag)
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I don't get the opportunity to hold the kinds of discussions you do. I don't work for parks or universities or anything in any official sort. I am a huge fan of coyotes though and I take every opportunity to speak positively about them when they come up. I enthusiastically talk about how beautiful I think they are, how clever and resourceful they are, and how they're just all around fascinating creatures. While I don't think I've convinced anyone who's fiercely anti-coyote to think otherwise, I do think that my words have gotten people who are more neutral about them to look at them in a slightly more positive light, and I think that helps.

I did have a conversation one time with a gentleman who says the concept of coyotes in his neighborhood was terrifying. He didn't like the idea of being attacked by one if it ever came to it. When I told him about hazing techniques and that coyotes more often than not are about knee high and weigh less than thirty pounds, he didn't find them so scary anymore. Who would? Most people come across dogs bigger than coyotes in their day to day lives and don't give them a second thought.

Either way, keep your chin up and keep doing what you're doing. Even when it doesn't feel like it, your words and works do have an impact.

God bless.

Posted by juniper86 3 months ago (Flag)
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I think for those of us who love wildlife and want to preserve it as much as possible, the only way to do that is to educate people. Sam, you come into contact and hear about people who don't have an interest in wildlife much more than I do and it's frustrating enough for me to deal with this. I can understand your frustration, completely. I bet that in that group of people you spoke to, who were so opposed to coyotes being in "their" neighborhood, perhaps one or two of those people will consider your comments and that you are a biologist, who knows what he's talking about in this regard and they may think about your words, then come to realize that perhaps, you are right. If we can educate people who really had no clue or never even thought about the beneficial aspects of coyotes or bobcats eating rats, (and other benefits of allowing wildlife to roam freely about), they may just come around, slowly, but surely. There's a certain unfounded fear that people have and gaining knowledge about the wildlife around them, might just ease that fear, a bit. Not everyone will become enlightened, of course, but maybe change can be affected, slowly. I'm hoping that's the case. I have had screech owl boxes on my property for about 14 years. Whenever I get the chance, I tell people about the owls and the harmful effects of d-Con, sticky traps and domestic cats that are allowed to roam free, outdoors. I walk away, hoping that person will come away valuing owls, and with an understanding they didn't have, before.

Posted by robin_g 3 months ago (Flag)
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Hey all, thanks for the comments, feedback, and your experiences with these... opportunities... to educate folks. I'm also glad that I'm not alone in this sort of thing too.

One thing that does motivate me tremendously is this iNat community -- thanks all. :)

Posted by sambiology 3 months ago (Flag)
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Sam, I have not responded until now because of my inability to express what I feel about a certain situation.
In Lexington every January there is a Varmint Hunt where teams of guys (usually) spend the day hunting a list of mammals considered to be "harmful", bring them back to a location in town, and then give out prizes for the one with the most points. Each species has a given number of points, In other words, a bobcat is worth more points than a raccoon. (Sadly, wild hogs are not included in the hunt.)
This past January, the Lexington newspaper added to the usual photos of human victors a front page photo of all the dead animals laid out for the count. This appalled and disgusted me. See photo: https://www.newsbreak.com/texas/lexington/news/0O3H9NSB/11th-annual-varmint-hunt-sees-105-teams-participating
Next year, I am planning a low key protest. I must do something other than gripe about it to folks with my like values.
No banners or chanting, etc., but a perhaps a booth set in a legal but visible location with information my experiences as a Texas Master Naturalist has provided me.
Also, I must have a talk with our local county TPWD employee regarding TPWD being one of the organizations having a part in the event.
I also would welcome input from any iNaturalist or TMN member.

Posted by connlindajo 2 months ago (Flag)
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@connlindajo I have been patiently processing your story in my head. Growing up in Pilot Point circa 1990's when it was still barely a 2A school, I can see where such an event as a varmint hunt would be tolerated and there could be a good reason from landowners to have such an event.

However, what I don't understand is how a bobcat and other like species are not protected from this. Your post inspired me to start looking into hunting laws in Texas and protected species lists. I'm very green to all of this, with no training in wildlife management. But it would seem logical to say that if we could make an argument for a particular species to be protected that private landowners could not provide ample argument in return, then surely species like a bobcat and others would not be included in a Varmint Hunt.

Your post made me feel true sadness. I guess I very naively figured that this sort of thing was well in the past. I'm not against hunting, but surely there is a better management and protection that could be considered.
Jaime

Posted by baxter-slye 2 months ago (Flag)
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I do have several resident raccoons that wreck havoc around my house. They are nuisances. But the fox and the bobcat photos really hit me hard. Thanks for your response and for your insight.

Posted by connlindajo 2 months ago (Flag)
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Hey @connlindajo , @baxter-slye and I talked about this a bit today... Yeah, these 'predator contests' are really dumb, to put it bluntly. They're used JUST for recreation and there are NO management justifications behind them. Sure, predator management is a thing, but these predator contests are far from management... It bugs me a bunch that some of my fellow wildlife biologists support these events... It's a bummer.

But, I take a little bit of solace in this study of the shifting wildlife values:
https://www.fishwildlife.org/application/files/9915/4049/1625/AWV_-_National_Final_Report.pdf
It's a long study, but basically it shows that more people are valuing wildlife in a general sense rather than just a resource that we can exploit. Hopefully the trend will continue. We'll see.

Posted by sambiology 2 months ago (Flag)
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Thanks for your response, Sam. The link you sent will make some interesting reading. I do have more time on my hands these days with so many activities (even my dentist appointment) cancelled or postponed.
I do not think the majority of the hunting teams in the hunt are even local. Basically, to be honest, I see it is an excuse for a bunch of guys to shoot animals and drink beer.
Enough negativity for now. I know things will change. Education is a part of it.
Today I informed a member of our TMN training class about annual bastard cabbage. He was excited about seeing a Monarch on them. I forwarded him the info on Texas Invasives and nicely told him I did not share his delight in the plant. In fact, yanking bastard cabbage will be my Earth Day project, since our chapter activities have been canceled this year. He responded that now he understands.
One person at a time.
Tell Elizabeth hello for me. I hope to see you both sometime soon.
Again, thanks for your response.

Posted by connlindajo 2 months ago (Flag)

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