The blogosphere lost a favorite netizen this week.  We’ll miss you, Inkblot, master loll cat and patio prince.

It seems Inkblot was sent to cat heaven by a coyote, in the middle of a neighborhood where everything in your field of view in every direction except the sky is there because of a conscious human decision: Et in suburbia ego.  We have strict zoning, building codes, design review, neighborhood associations, real cops and private security, neighborhood watch associations, home alarm systems – all the awesome powers of organized humanity – but nature has her ways, and creatures specialized for the edge of the forest (deer) and unspecialized creatures open to anything (coyotes, opossums, skunks, raccoons; cockroaches, Argentine ants, crabgrass, mosquitos) know a niche when they see one.

When we moved to Berkeley, we lived a half-mile downhill from the East Bay’s wonderful hilltop park reserve, and our standard poodle saw a splendid, sleek, six-point buck enjoying the rose bushes and some vegetables.  The dog had met the occasional deer in Vermont, wild deer with traditional views of ungulate/carnivore relationships, and charged out to teach this one some manners. But this deer had learned what wusses Berkeley dogs are, and didn’t give an inch; confronted with a set of lowered antlers and a  look that meant business, Winnie gave a whimper and hotfooted it back in the house.

Now we live in a more urbanized neighborhood, and we still have the odd deer bounding through backyards, a whiff of skunk on the night air now and then and, wonderfully, a half dozen wild turkeys who amble down the sidewalk every few months.  Where the deer come out of the park, and I have seen them several times on the Cal campus, mountain lions follow, and coyotes are no longer unusual deep into settled areas. `It’s one thing to have your garden browsed by Bambi’s extended family, and another to be afraid to let your cat or cocker out. Vegan, peacable Berkeley, like a lot of suburban communities full of city slickers with romantic ideas about nature, is having some difficult moments recognizing what it means to live neither in the city nor the country.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

7 thoughts on “Wilderness”

  1. When we adopted our boys from the no-kill kitty shelter, the director explained the requirement that you promise to keep them inside: lifespan of an outdoor or indoor/outdoor cat is about 8 yrs, about half of what you can expect for an indoor only cat. Not to mention countless birds not slain.

  2. I have had one car-deer collision. I have lived most of my life in rural areas, some of them with heavy deer population–but the deer that hit my car was in a city of about 100,000 people, in an area with 75-year-old houses on quarter-acre lots. (I say “hit my car” to be precise; the deer ran into the road and into my passenger-side door.)

  3. It doesn’t take much in the way of “open space” for wildlife to show up. My inside the beltway community now has frequent sightings of foxes and somewhat less frequent sightings of coyotes. We do not let our animals roam, we no longer use our dog door (that was because of a raccoon).

    We think the foxes and coyotes are being drawn in particular by what seems like an unusual abundance over the last few years of rabbits. But seriously, coyotes make me nervous, though I am told that they would probably only try to take out a human if there are two or more coyotes together. In the very much wilder area of northern Nova Scotia, there are now warnings in all parks about coyotes and what to do if there is an encounter with one, after several people were mauled and killed.

    Not that I want to encounter a coyote but I do find it somewhat reassuring that humans have a hard time running off all the other critters we share the earth with.

    1. Minor correction. One person was recently mauled and one was killed in Nova Scotia. The Eastern coyote is significantly bigger than the Western.

      That said, a Western coyote once killed a person – a toddler.

  4. Gus, we were in Nova Scotia in 2010 — a woman had recently been killed after being mauled by what was assumed to be a group of coyotes and at least one other person had been mauled but not killed. It was striking, not to say, disconcerting, that EVERY park we went to had coyote warnings. I did not know about the size differential. I am sure a lot of animals might be big enough to attack a toddler. I guess I assume that people would show enough common sense not to leave a toddler outdoors alone, but hey, that is probably not the best assumption.

    1. We’re writing about the same episodes. The toddler was down in Southern California. But from what I read here it may be a matter of time before it happens in Berkeley. Here is what IO copied from the Wikipedia description

      “Kelly was left by her mother Cathy in the living room to watch cartoons, and the girl left through the front door of the family’s Chevy Chase Canyon home. Kelly encountered the coyote in the driveway, and was dragged through the street. Kelly’s father Robert chased the coyote off and rushed Kelly to the Glendale Adventist Hospital, where she was in surgery for four hours.[1][2] She died from a broken neck and blood loss.[3]

      “Following Kelly Keen’s death in Glendale, the Commissioner’s personnel developed the first serious urban coyote management program. After 80 days of leghold trapping and shooting within a 0.5-mile (0.8-km) radius of the attack site, county personnel trapped and shot 55 coyotes.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Keen_coyote_attack

      If you read the Wikipedia account prepare to be sickened by the demented and depraved reaction of some vicious ‘animal rights’ activists to this issue.

  5. Just to quibble (and belatedly, too): I live in that neighborhood, and we can also see some mountains that I’m pretty sure aren’t man-made. I’ve also lost a cat to a coyote (we assume, unlike Kevin Drum, we never found the body).

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