Suburban Sprawl Pitting Man Vs. Nature

By Thomas Korosec
DALLAS, TX–Destructive feral pigs, coyotes losing their fear of humans, and deer overpopulation rank as the chief “flashpoints” in conflicts between man and nature in Texas’ ever-expanding cityscapes, say organizers of the state’s first comprehensive urban wildlife conference.

John Davis, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urban wildlife biologist, said human-animal entanglements are on the rise statewide, fueled by suburban sprawl and creatures steadily adapting to man.

The issue prompted the state to schedule a conference in Dallas recently of biologists, animal control officials, parks departments and others who will discuss the latest approaches and information.

Davis said researchers have found it important to identify and locate problem animals such as coyotes that have become dangerously comfortable around humans.

“Some coyotes learn fairly quickly that we are more afraid of them than they are of us,” he said, describing how the animals will begin boldly scavenging for dog food, trash, scraps and such in well-populated neighborhoods. “Most people will run into their houses or their car when they see one, which is poor training for the animal.”

Davis said the only solution to nuisance coyotes is to catch and destroy them before the problem grows. “They will teach these behaviors to their young,” he said. “We want to make sure we nip the behavior in the bud to protect the survival of the species.”

Experts recommend a completely different solution for the more common problem of pesky raccoons that den in or under houses, Davis said.

“We’ve found that excluding them by sealing off the opening and letting them remain in the area works best,” he said.

Research has shown that raccoons have dozens of alternate denning sites, while animals that are caught and relocated have poor survival rates, Davis said. On the move, they tend to be hit by cars or injured by other raccoons whose territory they cross.

Over the last several years, feral pigs have begun invading urban settings, including the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, a 3,600-acre park on the city’s northwestern edge.

“Because we’re so closely associated with people who love animals, we needed to educate people about the ecological damage they cause,” said Rob Denkhaus, natural resource manager for the city of Fort Worth.

He said that once people understood that the 300-pound pigs are a non-native, habitat-destroying species that endangers ground-nesting birds and small mammals, they understood the pigs needed to be eliminated.

Denkhaus said the center first proposed trapping and relocating the pernicious porkers. But the state, citing fears of spreading animal disease, would not grant a license to transport the pigs.

In 2003, the center began trapping and killing the pigs with a gunshot to the head. The carcasses are left on the ground to feed the center’s coyotes. Denkhaus would not say how many pigs have been killed, but three years ago, he said, staffers saw them daily. “Now it’s not uncommon to go a week or two without seeing one,” he said.

Davis, the state biologist, said overpopulation of deer, which is often dealt with by bans on feeding, is most pronounced in the area around Austin and San Antonio, but it also affects the Houston and Dallas areas. Human-alligator encounters, on the other hand, “are more of a problem people perceive than a real problem,” he said.

“There have been deaths in Florida, but we just don’t see that happening here in Texas,” Davis said.

According to state parks officials, alligators cause about one human injury per year, but there have been no deaths reported in the past 16 years. –Houston Chronicle