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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Predators are back!

I don't mean the Nashville hockey team that leads the NHL.

Vacationing in central Florida, my cousin Brooke reported an encounter with a black bear — something that's happening all across America. No longer can skeptics dismiss sightings of mountain lions east of the Mississippi. Coyotes are getting larger after interbreeding with wolves. The populations of alligators and bald eagles are increasing in North Carolina. My own back yard is frequented not only by red-tail hawks but also peregrine falcons. I never saw either until 15 years ago.

Unsettling? It can be. Gail and I were strolling on the Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco and ran across what appeared to be fresh mountain lion scat. We told the inevitable jokes about who could outrun whom and then reversed course, without incident. But the resurgence of predators is not a concern of only nature-lovers and farmers. The suburbs offer a bounty of treats — pets, rabbits, trash, etc — to predators who discover that the risks to themselves of such foraging is actually quite low. Urban raccoons were a mere annoyance. Coyote-wolf hybrids are more than that, although I'd certainly like their help with explosion of deer and geese who pose a greater risk in the form of auto accidents. (Running over a Canadian goose is potentially a violation of federal law.)

Reductions in pollution and elimination of chemicals such as DDT have helped predators to reestablish healthy populations. As a country, we should feel good about that even if the consequences aren't what we expected.

I wish I would see possums in my neighborhood again. When we moved in, the neighborhood was only five years old and possums were all around. But one by one the possums disappeared, victims of automobiles, tree loss, and eventually the city's improved trash cans. I doubt the possums will return, regardless of environmental improvements.

As for the Nashville Predators, I'd get a kick if yet another team in a "non-traditional hockey market" wins the Stanley Cup. Suck it, northerners.