When I bought this land over a year ago, I made a strict rule not to interfere with the wildlife. That rule lasted exactly one month.
When I had idealistically said I wanted to live symbiotically with the woods, of course didn’t consider the giant rats, cheeky thieving racoons, beavers building dams in my creek, coyotes chasing the cat, or elk eating my trees and garden.
I quickly amended my non-interference rule to, not actively harming the wildlife.
This rule was also broken a month later when I gave up on trapping and deterrents for the pack rats, and put down poison. (Believe me, I agonized over the decision to put out poisons, even tried dozens of alternatives) The destructiveness of the pack rats was so out of control, chewing through antifreeze hoses in the cars, digging through exterior siding to nest in the walls, chewing through the phone line, etc. I felt I had no choice. (I tried coyote pee as a deterrent…it ended up attracting more coyotes and a whole different set of problems)
Shortly thereafter, I ended up getting a cat to help keep the voles, mice, and rats under control so I wouldn’t have to use measures that would impact other wildlife. (Yes, a cat does impact other wildlife, but not say, like an owl eating a poisoned mouse)
Anywhoo, the struggle was on. I had not anticipated the difficulty of keeping a neutrality plan with my natural animal neighbors. So I’ve continuously had to amend my rules. Here is the set:
No active hunting large game on the land
This a given for me. The elk are a nuisance to the trees, and my cultivated plants, but they are relatively harmless and I enjoy watching them from the deck. With the exception of that day I heard a mating call in the morning darkness and thought someone was killing Maria Carey in the forest.
Cultivate habitats and ecosystems if I can.
Such as singling out trees that are good burrows for bats, and swifts. They keep the mosquito population in check around the creek and garden, so I want them in the area. Making sure those habitats stay safe and undamaged is a priority.
This also means planting plants, berries and flowers to attract birds, bees, and butterflies. It means putting in small bird houses, putting out clipped strings and clippings in the spring for nests, putting up hummingbird feeders, etc. Cultivate ecosystem and positive population.
Keep the river free of poisons.
This means a few different things to me. Maintaining the septic system and overflow is key to how close my house is to a water source (a protected salmon habitat). It also means I am trying very hard not to use pesticides or weed killers. This became a struggle when I noticed early signs of termites in the raised garden boxes and saw carpenter ants on the deck. My options are limited and short without pesticides, so I have allowed myself to use specifically termite, carpenter ant sprays on house only, and natural organic oils and extracts on the garden, and water runoff areas.
Maintain the health of the waterway.
This one felt loose to me. Health means a lot of things and I’ve never been the caretaker of a waterway before. The land rules state that I cannot make permanent additions to the creek, (buildings, etc.) But I do need a safe way to cross the water, especially when it’s high runoff.
Putting in temporary bridges, paths, and overflow areas is a much needed project. It also contributes to my trout farming plans (trout in tanks). So I need to build temporary access in ways that will not clutter or harm the water and or fish and wildlife population.
It’s such a tricky task, I’ve yet to do anything but sketch plans and ponder.
When a beaver moved in and dammed off the creek, I had to wrestle with the non-interference rule, AND the maintaining a healthy waterway. Ultimately, the danger the beaver posed to the salmon downstream necessitated a call to Fish and Wildlife. They quickly assessed the concern for the salmon, and the dam was broken up quickly after.
Do not touch the wildlife. Observe. Cultivate. Support. No touchy.
This one is stupid obvious, and yet, I just recently broke this rule. I’m an idiot. I know better, and I did it anyway.
When a bird flew into the window (a thrush, I think). I rushed outside and found it dying on the deck. Or so I thought. I worried, fussing that it was in pain, but I didn’t have it in me to kill it out of compassion, nor could I leave it wounded and dying for the cat to find and potentially torture.
I broke my rule to scoop it up and place it in a box with wood shavings and a screen. Either it would recover, or die someplace safe and warm.
A couple of hours later when I checked on it, the wings were folded and it looked as though it would recover. I was hugely relieved. Then I did something truly dumb…I lifted the screen off to check the wing while still in the house. Why didn’t I carry the box outside first to check? Good question. The answer is, as previously stated, I’m an idiot.
Of course the bird would object to having a tender wing touched. Of course it would fly out of the box and STRAIGHT FOR THE WINDOW.
When it flew into the same spot he knocked himself out on before. A hug puff of feather exploded all over the couch. POOF!
I scrambled, crying out, “Ohmigod. I’m so sorry! My bad. My bad. I’m such an ass. Please hold still.”
Did it? No. Of course not. It’s a frightened animal, and I’m a moron.
If flew to the next window with a POOF! And a shockingly large amount of feathers. Dozens of downy little fluffs all over the floor.
If the poor creature hadn’t been brain damaged by the first nearly catastrophic window collision, certainly the second two did the job. I chased it through the living room. Then fumbled and grabbed a towel, tossing it over the poor thing, then carefully carried it outside. When I opened the towel it was stunned and clinging to my fingers for a few minutes. Death grip claws around my digits.
“Well, I’m relieved you’re not dead and can still fly.”
So it did, trialing feathers across the lawn. Then I promptly poured a stiff scotch to still my shaking hands and racing heart…and the guilt that if I’d just left it well enough alone, it would have been fine.
THIS is WHY NO TOUCHY. Damnit, Athena. You know better.
I’ve come to understand the silliness of believing I can be completely neutral from the wild when I’m actively living within it. Living is an active word, an active process. I had thought I would be in sort of in a bubble and that I wouldn’t impact the woods and they wouldn’t impact me. Naiveté, Pollyanna.
So the best I can do is curb the worst of my impacts, and actively try to improve my little space while not doing greater harm in the process. It’s a work in progress and requires constant re-thinking. It requires better planning than I’ve ever had, and answers to questions I’ve never encountered before. It means thinking of impact actions a dozen steps down the pipeline.
Such as, I need to cull some trees, but it’s no longer just as simple as cut them down. Which trees are the biggest threat to the house and land, and what impact will they make on the environment when they’re removed. Are they habitat rich? Will the come down in the creek? On the elk trail? Across the water? Will they take away bird housing, bat sanctuary, or dam the water on accident? Should I wait a year or risk the tree coming down on its own?
Days when I come across a lizard in the kitchen, or a salamander stuck in the down spout, or a massive spider that would give even the most courageous spider-lover a moment of pause, or the raccoon steals my vent cap and runs into the woods as I chase behind in my underpants, or a cougar saunters across the road as though that’s no big dealio…well, I find myself realizing why I’ve consumed more alcohol this year than all previous years. We’ll call it medicinal serum for the moment.
In the meantime, I’ll hang more doodads in the windows to spare the birds from accidents, put nets on the gutters and downspouts, caulk the vent cap in place, and bungee the trash lid to keep the trash bandit and her baby coons out of my rubbish. (though, I admit they’re cute, they’re messy as hell. The one night I left the lid un-bungeed, they ate a bunch of old Chinese takeout and barfed it all over the driveway. No joke. Super disgusting. It was like waking up to an after-Prom-night party in the yard.)
All in all, I wouldn’t change it up for the world. It wasn’t what I thought I was getting into…it’s turned out to be so much more. So much richer. So much more inspiring.
And despite the challenges, I couldn’t be more grateful.