Columnist Frank Newell is on temporary leave. Until he returns, we will reprint submissions from our archives. The following is reprinted from May 2011.
As man’s greed for the almighty dollar continues to increase, which inevitably causes wildlife to suffer, the wild animals have so far suffered the consequences, but that won’t be the case forever. At some point, our kind will pay the ultimate price for our abuse of the environment, destruction of natural places of beauty and place, and inflicting pain and grief on other beings.
As ravages destroy the wild places where wild creatures live, and many of them die, others move on to places not yet harmed, and some of them have adapted to man’s presence, such as the Canada geese, whitetail deer and even the wild turkeys, mainly because of agricultural crops and no-hunting areas such as suburbs and posted lands. This is especially true of Lake Gaston and its adjoining areas.
Some species of wildlife that were prolific in the Roanoke River and its basin have done well in the vicinity of Lake Gaston, many even becoming more prolific. The main reason is that the peaceful, “laid back” atmosphere of the lake provides a safer habitat for the local wildlife. However, in the long run, this is not good for wildlife because nature did not intend for wild creatures to be laid back, fed or protected by humans; but I reckon that a half-tame deer, goose, fox or raccoon is better than no deer, goose or raccoon.
The funny thing is that while some lake residents like and enjoy the local wild animals around them, there are others who don’t like them. For instance, right many years ago, when migrating Canada geese would stop for a day’s or night’s rest, a family would throw out some birdseed, bread or other tidbits. Finding an available source of food, the geese decided to end their migratory flight and take up residence there. The following spring, several of these geese built nests and hatched out a passel of goslings, which grew up and raised their young the next spring.
Well, it took only a couple or three nesting seasons for that small flock of Canada geese to become a large flock and still growing. Trouble was, the neighbors on each side of the family that was feeding them didn’t particularly like geese to start with, and when there were over 50 or more or them, those neighbors were ready to take up arms.
After several years, those migratory Canada geese were no longer migratory, and were classified as “non-migratory” species. To me this was an unnatural thing and not good for the geese or the human residents; another example of man messing with nature.
Another interesting animal of Lake Gaston is the beaver. In the olden days of this nation, circa 1700s through the 1800s, the beaver was a most important natural resource. Beaver pelts were the most valuable export commodity to Europe. A well-handled beaver pelt sold for more money than a store clerk earned in a month. They were so valuable that the last beaver in this area was trapped around 1864. With the last beaver gone, the large predators that feed on beavers had no choice but to leave for other far away places where beavers still existed.
Two or three generations later, beavers were live-trapped in other states and reintroduced into this area. Trouble lay ahead because no predators were reintroduced. For a good many years, the beavers reproduced, and beaver populations grew in many places. And they grew and grew until there were way too many beavers. It’s what is called too much of a good thing.
How did this happen? Because there were no predators to control their numbers, the balance of nature was upset, and bad things began to happen. In places where, in the old days, there were four or five beavers, there were now 20 or 30. They built large and numerous dams that flooded and drowned valuable timber and wildlife habitat, killing baby quail, rabbits and other ground nesting birds and animals. This is another example of man in conflict with nature.
To this day, the beaver population in the Lake Gaston area and most other areas is way too high. However, unlike the Canada goose situation, which often pits neighbor against neighbor, almost no one welcomes beavers; one exception being duck hunters, because beaver ponds attract ducks. Not many people wear fur coats these days, but if the price of a beaver pelt ever again brings as much money as a store clerk earns in a month, then there will no longer be a beaver problem.
In last week’s column I said that I could look at the entrance of a groundhog’s den and tell if the groundhog was in there or not. How can I do that? There is a certain large fly that rides on a groundhog’s head. When the groundhog goes into its den, which is a tunnel in the ground, that fly leaves the groundhog’s head, lights on the dirt at the entrance, and waits until the groundhog comes back out. Then the fly again lights on its head. So if I see that fly sitting at the entrance, I know that the groundhog is in there. If no fly is present, the groundhog is not in.
— Continued next week. —