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Varmints again

David Shefik Berkeley
Saturday September 14, 2002

To the Editor: 


“Some people” aren't trying to “turn back the clock” on civilization. On the other hand, Jenifer Steele (Forum, Sept. 6) looks at our environment as us verses them and would prefer to live in a time before bounties on animal scalps were outlawed. Enlightened Berkeley citizens understand that raccoons descend from the hills in late summer and fall when what little humans haven't already eliminated of their normal food sources dry up. True Berkeley residents know to secure their garbage can lids and put their dog food inside. There is enough room in this town for both humans and raccoons if people just use some common sense. 

Jenifer does bring up a valid point about the lack of natural predators, since humans have wiped out those “varmints” too. For the cost of just the first two or three years of what would be an endless and expensive raccoon-neutering campaign, Berkeley could afford to re-introduce a local coyote population, start bringing back bobcats and help re-establish golden eagle and other raptor populations. Natural (esp. baby) raccoon predation rates would go back up, and the rest of us would get the bonus of living with a more vibrant and diversified wildlife population. True, some Berkeley newcomers would probably pack up their poodles and koi ponds and move back to whatever sterilized and sanitized suburban or ultra-urban environments they came from. 

But Hey! Our little town is already overcrowded. We won't miss them. Obvious question: How long would it take for the Tilden Park, El Cerrito, North Oakland and Oakland hills raccoons to move into any void created by an hysterical and expensive Berkeley neutering program? Answer: days and weeks for full perimeter penetration and months-plus for full Berkeley coverage. Every year this ill-advised program would have to start from scratch. Jenifer says in her letter: “Right On!...if the City Council wants to sterilize them.” Wrong! This “idea” comes from a single councilwoman abusing her position to impress her careless out-of-town friend in a city that's already millions in the red. A simple public awareness campaign, along with free raccoon-proof garbage cans for all who want them would accomplish much more at a fraction of the cost. Jenifer's dogs are unlikely to ever bark at or challenge a raccoon again, but their wildlife-phobic owner seems to have learned little from her $110 lesson. Her ornamental non-native fish and plants are indeed fair game for hungry raccoons, regardless of the tragic loss of the oh-so-valuable time of “two very busy people.” By the way, just clean up any raccoon scat at the same time that you clean up after your dogs. Wildlife experts say that this will practically eliminate the already minuscule risk of any disease transmission. 

My previous letter was the first I'd ever written to an editor. Someone had to defend the absolute right of raccoons to coexist in our shared environment, (raccoons aren't big on writing letters). The volume of supportive e-mails, phone calls and back slaps I received for speaking up just reinforces the fact that the squeamish supporters of this inane proposal are far outnumbered by the rest of us longtime Berkeley residents who refuse to go to war against our furrier neighbors. Long live the Berkeley Raccoons. 



David Shefik