Turkeys and beavers and deer, oh my! As wild populations grow, what happens when animals and people end up living side by side? On the morning of September 30, 2014, everything seemed normal in the suburban town of Ridgewood, New Jersey. A woman walked her dog along the sidewalk. Cars drove down the streets. Suddenly, another woman jumped out of her car and screamed. A 300-pound black bear had just crossed the road right in front of her! Someone called the police in a panic. Meanwhile, the bear trotted across lawns and through a city park. Then it began climbing trees—right outside two schools filled with kids and teens. The schools went on lockdown. Emergency workers and wildlife officials arrived. Among them was Kelcey Burguess, the Bear Project Leader for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. According to Burguess, it took four hours for a team of 15 to 20 people to remove the bear. At last, the workers managed to capture the animal. They loaded it onto a truck and drove it to a state forest, where they released it. Many people were shocked to hear about a bear roaming through a town of 25,000 people. But not Burguess. “It’s a fairly common event, actually,” he says. “This one just happened to make the news.” Animals on the Rise Over the past 50 years, the number of black bears in the U.S. has skyrocketed. For example, in 1970 there were fewer than 100 bears living in New Jersey. By 2010, there were about 3,000! The state doesn’t have many wilderness areas, so it’s no wonder that bears and people often meet. Bears are not the only animals that have become more common. Deer, cougars, beavers, and other creatures have seen a huge rise in their numbers (see graph, page 11). Many of these animals were once nearly wiped out in many places. Now there are more of them than there have been for hundreds of years. Why did this happen? Jim Sterba can list a few reasons. He is the author of Nature Wars, a book about animal comebacks in the U.S. Sterba points out that early Americans hunted many animals for food and fur. They also cleared huge areas of land for farming. Forests were cut down for firewood and building materials. Animals lost their homes. But things changed. People stopped hunting so much. Farms moved to other areas, and millions of acres of forest grew back. Because trees grow slowly, few people noticed what was happening. “These new forests grew back right under the noses of Americans,” writes Sterba. Suburbs Gone Wild The new forests made great homes for returning animals. So did another new type of place: the suburbs. Around 1950, more and more people began living in houses separated by yards and trees. It turned out that these suburbs provided a perfect home for animals, too. There were delicious shrubs and grass lawns to eat and trees to nest in. Plus, humans often left out tasty garbage. It may seem unnatural for wild animals to live in backyards. But that’s not the case. “Wildlife is far more adaptable than we give it credit for,” explains Burguess. “We have bears, bobcats, and coyotes all living among people. Not just living—thriving.” Can We Get Along? At first, people may be excited when they see a wild animal. That feeling can quickly turn to dismay. Deer spread ticks that carry Lyme disease. Coyotes kill small pets. Bears and raccoons can break into cars, homes, and garbage cans. (In Oregon, a cougar entered a house through a dog door.) People disagree about what to do when large numbers of animals become a problem for humans. Should we hunt the animals to reduce their numbers? Try to relocate them? Or just learn to live with them? Burguess believes we can find ways to coexist with wildlife. “Most people who live around these animals want to keep seeing them,” he says. “They just don’t want them inside the house.” —Sarah Jane Brian Vocabulary suburban: describes an area mostly made up of houses, often found on the edge of a city wilderness: a large area of land where no people live acres: an acre is a measurement of land equal to 43,560 square feet adaptable: able to change in order to survive coexist: live together peacefully READING A DOUBLE BAR GRAPH Creatures Making a Comeback In recent years, there has been a huge rise in the numbers of many kinds of wild animals in the U.S. This graph shows just a few of them. 1. According to the graph, there are about _____ wild turkeys living in the U.S. today. eighty eight hundred eight thousand eight million 2. About the same number of _____ live in the U.S. today. black bears and beavers beavers and raccoons wild turkeys and raccoons black bears and wild turkeys 3. Look at the number of wild turkeys in the 1940s to 1970s. Today, there are nearly _____ as many. 4 times 8 times 10 times 16 times 4. Deer have also had a big rise in their numbers—there are 32 million of them in the U.S. today! Imagine that we made a bar on the graph to show that number. The bar would be _____ times taller than the bar for the number of wild turkeys in the U.S. 2 3 4 5
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