Dobie: Sad song from the wilds of Long Island

White-tailed deer intrude on the property of a White-tailed deer intrude on the property of a home in Southold on Nov. 13, 2013. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Michael Dobie Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

You think living on Long Island is tough, what with taxes and traffic and the economy still in the tank?

Try being a swan. Or a deer. Or a Canada goose.

These are rough times for local fauna. The state wants to get rid of mute swans, deer are in the crosshairs on the East End, and the Town of North Hempstead planned to kill Canada geese until protests forced officials to stand down. Heck, three snowy owls were shot at Kennedy Airport in December before public outcry led officials to change to a trap-and-relocate strategy.

I'm not suggesting the reasons for wanting to kill or remove some of these creatures are not compelling. Often, they are. I just want us to acknowledge our own complicity, come to some broad understanding that a lot of the problems were created by us, and that Pogo was right: We have met the enemy and he is us.

Take the deer, for example. Years of development bulldozed their habitat, forcing them into ever-smaller areas. Now they're eating crops and gardens -- a predictable adaptation. They're darting in front of cars, damaging forest habitat for other species, and spreading Lyme disease via ticks. There are too many for the space in which they're constrained. The herd does need to be culled and then managed to keep the numbers from exploding again. But there's a powerful lesson here that our actions have consequences -- and we need to learn from that.

Mute swans present a different issue. Not native to the United States, they were brought from Europe in the 1800s as part of a movement to introduce that continent's flora and fauna to North America. Some of the effects were devastating -- like the decline of our state bird, the Eastern bluebird, after house sparrows arrived.

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On Long Island, swans graced the estates of the rich, until they flew off to other ponds and began to increase in population. Now they're depleting food sources for our native waterfowl, whose numbers are declining. Prioritizing native species is critical in preserving ecosystems. So something needs to be done. But it's sad. It also is hypocritical to say that swans are damaging ducks' habitat without noting how much of their beloved wetlands we ourselves have destroyed.

Canada geese, on the other hand, are Long Island natives. They're not as cute as deer or swans and therefore do not generate as much sympathy. And they poop. All over. My three daughters played softball on fields across Long Island, where it's at least a 50-50 proposition that when you go down to field a ground ball you'll come up with more than the ball.

But we did it to the geese, too. When Long Island was wooded, they didn't stay here year-round because of the lack of their preferred open spaces. Then we cleared the land and built parks, golf courses and school grounds -- perfect tundra-type habitat for grass-loving geese. And they stopped migrating. And now we're complaining. And oiling their eggs so they won't hatch and chasing them with collies and erecting wooden dogs to scare them and talking about euthanasia.

Some action is necessary in all these cases, but the underlying rationale is lamentable: We alter nature's balance, then decide the best way to solve the problem is to get rid of what's bothering us. It's an interesting lesson for our younger generation.

But the news is not all bad on the nature-intervention front. New York State is contemplating bringing back the northern cricket frog to Long Island. Extinct here since the 1930s -- from causes not definitely known -- the amphibians are mighty minis: 1 inch long but capable of jumping 6 feet. And, hey, their diet includes mosquitoes.

This is one intervention we all can support.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

 

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