The five River Otters plunged into the water and swam away, sleek as seals. To me, it was an awe-inspiring sight, the culmination of decades of clean water laws and a successful reintroduction effort to restore local animal communities to what they should be.
That sounds pretty exciting, right? I thought so too until I talked to some fishermen who complained that the otters eat all the fish. Having watched four otters gobble up several bluegills in just a few minutes, there wasn’t much I could say to disagree. It just goes to show that there are always many sides to any issue.
Human and wildlife conflict is not new. I can remember touring through Yellowstone almost 20 years ago when wolves were just getting re-established there. They had a board there where people could comment on what they thought of the wolves coming back. Locals, fearful of the effect of wolves on hunting, ranching and fishing, were mostly opposed to the reintroduction. Tourists, myself included, were mostly for it.
That exhibit gave me a lot to think about. There is an element out there of environmentalists who don’t actually go out and use the resources that are there. They hike, camp and enjoy the outdoors but don’t use the resources in their daily life. Their freezers are not stalked with wild game. They don’t heat with wood from the forests they live near, and their connection to the land is spiritual and intellectual, not physical.
This describes me pretty well. I love nature and the plants and animals that live here. Compared to most, I am fairly fluent in what is happening outside. Rarely, however, do I feel the impact of how the environment affects my life.
Last summer, a vole outbreak in my yard changed that a little. These adorable rodents form the basis of the food chain for almost every small to medium local predator, and they love to eat plants. To my utter disgust, that included my beans and peas, which were snipped off at ground level.
These a-voles, as they soon came to be called, decimated the garden. It was not long before there was an all out war against the voles. I lost the war, but, by creating tiny fences around veggies, won most of the garden battles.
This is a more direct battle than fishermen and otters, but the idea is the same. The voles were in direct competition with me for food, just as fishermen and otters. The solution is similar, otters can’t be fenced out, but otter-proof fish hiding spots can be placed in the water to help the fish hide.
More important is keeping an open mind. So often, we get involved in conversations about plants, animals, hunting and trapping and don’t hear the other side of the story. The next time you get involved in an issue about the local environment, stop and really listen to the other side of the story. You might learn something unexpected.
Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist and Exhibits Coordinator at the Audubon Community Nature Center, a former CWC board director and a longtime CWC volunteer. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.