Urban or Not, It’s Wild Out There

A term that shows up now and then in news articles about development in the Black Hills is “urban-wildlife interface.” No, that’s not the name of a rock band. It’s bureaucratese for “build a house in the woods and you’ll have critters in your yard.” Or actually, around here, it means, “live anywhere in town and you’ll have critters in your yard.”

This year’s drought-breaking rains have produced abnormally lush vegetation, which means the “urban” part of the “urban-wildlife interface” is doing its best to keep the lawn mowed, while the “wildlife” part is thriving on all that food.

In our yard, all this abundance means you can hardly go up to the street to get the morning paper without tripping over two or three bunnies. The cottontails have been reproducing like—well, you know what. They seem to be thriving, despite the pair of foxes that have taken up residence in the nearby gully.

Yesterday morning I left the garage door open while I watered some plants, and when I came back around the corner a few minutes later, a couple of adolescent bunnies were playing under my car. When they saw me coming, they scampered out of the garage and into the grass, and I swear they were giggling. Maybe, being teenage guys, they were just checking out the motor. Or maybe they wanted to see whether I had left the keys in the ignition, in case they wanted to sneak off later to drive down to the convenience store for illicit cigarettes and a six-pack of cheap beer.

This is the fun part of the “urban-wildlife interface.” If I were a more serious gardener, or if there were a few more bunnies, I’m sure I would regard them less as entertainment and more as pests.

But urban or not, we are sometimes reminded that this isn’t the Disney version of the outdoors. Like the time earlier this summer when we ran over a nest of cottontails with the lawn mower. Two (hopefully uninjured) palm-sized youngsters darted across the driveway to shelter, a third crouched in trembling terror in the grass until it was picked up and deposited under the safety of the steps, and an unfortunate fourth was left as nothing but bloody scraps of fur.

Then there was the fawn we saw in the back yard last evening. It was just a few feet from the patio doors, eyes wide and fan-like ears swiveling as it tried to make sense of the fawn it could see reflected in the glass. Although it looked healthy and was browsing its way through the grass and shrubs near the door, its coat was rough with burrs, and it kept balancing on three finger-thin legs in order to scratch with a dainty hoof. Still dappled with spots, it was obviously too young to be wandering around alone.

Yet, during the half-hour or so the fawn spent in the back yard, no mom showed up. Either the fawn was disobeying orders to stay put, or its mother had been hit by a car or grabbed by a mountain lion for last night’s dinner. Either way, the little guy’s odds of survival aren’t good. And if it is an orphan, realistically there’s nothing we can, or probably should, do about it.

That Mother Nature. She isn’t always a sweet little lady. As living in the “urban-wildlife interface” can demonstrate, sometimes she’s a tough old broad.

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