Making Wildlife Into Vermin

Just like weeds are plants growing in the wrong place, vermin are animals in the wrong place. Most often, in the context of a  city like San Francisco, that would be in or near our homes, interfering in some way with our lives. When they’re up in the forest, they’re wildlife, or just plain animals.

Living in San Francisco, we’re fortunate to have wildlife in our midst. Raccoons. Skunks. Opossums. Rodents including gophers and voles and rats and squirrels. Reptiles of various kinds. Foxes. Coyotes. Bats. We’re also fortunate to have people who watch some of them and post information and pictures. The excellent Coyote Yipps blog has great photographs of coyotes that live in our city; it’s run by Janet Kessler, the Jane Goodall of San Francisco’s coyotes. Jennifer Krauel has a Masters thesis and a website on San Francisco’s bats. (If you have other references, send an email to, or leave a comment.)

We don’t know what lives in Mount Sutro Cloud Forest (it hasn’t been studied).  But the animals that live there depend on the understory of blackberry thickets for cover. Snails and insects attracted to these thickets are a food source, as are the berries of the blackberry and the ivy, in season. Rodents such as gophers are a foundation species for a whole ecology.

Garlon 4

So what happens to these animals when the understory is ripped out and poisoned with herbicides? Some may be able to move, but many animals are territorial. They cannot move into other territories any more easily than you could move into your neighbor’s home if your house was destroyed. Instead, they seek unoccupied territories. These may well be homes and gardens around the “Demonstration areas”; they’re open territories because we work to keep them that way. We don’t really want to share our homes with random wildlife. That’s when they become vermin.

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13 Responses to Making Wildlife Into Vermin

  1. Pingback: My Position In Relation To Coyotes « Coyote Yipps

  2. Thank you for this. This posting is right on target. We need to think about the wildlife that has carved out niches in the areas where nature has been allowed to flourish. Wildlife likes areas that have been left alone. We need to work with what we have, not destroy it and replace it. We need to preserve Mount Sutro Forest as it is — preserve the thick growth which serves as habitat for so many animals.

    My policy would be to leave nature alone, the way it is — nature is smarter than humans, who, I have found, feel a need to control and manage too much. My problem with humans intervening is that they too often hide behind the guise of “science”, when science does not have all the answers — science is a human phenomenon and humans do not have all the answers. The plans they come up with often do more harm than good because humans don’t look at all the variables — they only bring into the equation what will suit their own ends. The Gulf oil spill is a disaster we could have avoided — but we listened to the “sound science” behind the technology involved in deep water drilling. Another is the “native” plant programs which purport to be “scientific” when in fact they are extreme, arbitrary and one-dimensional.

    Animals live in our thick wooded areas where the balances have been achieved over a long period of time. Ultimately, none of us is “native” to this area.  But we live here and may be considered native now. Whether plants and animals were brought here by humans, or by birds and animals pooping out plant seeds or by animals immigrating just as we humans have from the beginning of time, there is an ecological balance, an interconnected natural balance that has been achieved over many years — it is a natural balance created by what we all believe in:  “nature”.

    For all the talk that goes on about it, humans interfering and “managing” are not working with nature. In their need to manage, they are creating “pruned gardens” that have to do only with themselves and their ideas, not with the big picture we call nature. Mount Sutro Forest, for example, needs to be preserved, not ripped out and re-created. I am the author of the coyoteyipps blog. I am finding out that many people would like to preserve the wild areas we have in place. Please let’s save Mount Sutro Forest. This blog needs to post HOW we might be able to help do so.

    • webmaster says:

      Janet, thanks for posting. Your Coyote Yipps blog is amazing.

      Three-quarters of Sutro Forest belongs to UCSF, and they can save the forest. This will happen only if they appreciate what a treasure they have. It may help if knowledgeable people write to the Chancellor and others (see Whom to Contact).

  3. Thank you! I’ll compose some emails. Janet

  4. I love what you called me: “the Jane Goodall of San Francisco Coyotes.” That will ring in my ears for a long time. Thanks!! Janet

  5. Jonathan says:

    Janet – the “sound science” conclusively showed that the BP well was in trouble. BP repeatedly chose to ignore the warning signs – they weren’t deceived by shoddy science.

    The issue isn’t humans interfering vs. not interfering. The issue is that humans already interfered, and continue to interfere. We’d rather interfere positively rather than negatively. Another half-dozen local butterfly species could go extinct in addition to the three that San Francisco has already lost (including at least one that would have lived on Mt. Sutro pre-eucalyptus).

    [Webmaster: Minor edits made to avoid personal jibes.]

  6. Jonathan says:

    Don’t you think it would have a much greater chance of succeeding if it had 110 acres of varied habitat to work with rather than a single 30 acre ridgeline?

  7. Hello Jonathan —
    If there is any “science” behind the native plant program it is unsound and out-of-date. You don’t wreck havoc with an already existing environmental niche just to preserve butterflies. You don’t destroy one species to save another: see Using Hamsters to Save Ferrets: . Every inch of soil isn’t meant to be biologically diverse — that would make everything the same, wouldn’t it? What needs to be kept diverse is the different environmental niches and habitats that we do have. Our cloud forest is rather a unique place, and has become biologically balanced naturally over 100 years of its own evolutionary growth. That those particular trees were brought here by people is part of the history: they were planted on a mostly bare hillside. To tear the forest down, or parts of it down for butterflies, or, I should say for an experiment in butterfly reintroduction, seems unreasonable. There are plenty of places without full-grown trees that you can use for those experiments. Please leave the wild growth that so many of us love alone. The issue is humans continuing to interfere — especially those with a single agenda.

  8. Jonathan says:

    Janet, I’m not sure if I’m the one with the “single agenda” that you are referring to. I can assure you that I have a wide range of varied interests and concerns. Even my concerns about Mt. Sutro and the native habitat that the eucalyptus forest replaced is not borne out of any single agenda to preserve a single feature, but out of concerns for dozens of rare plants and animals in the San Francisco area which, unlike eucalyptus, ivy, and blackberry, can be found nowhere else on Earth.

  9. Jonathan says:

    And, I should also note, humans ALWAYS interfere. They interfered with Mt. Sutro in the 19th century, throughout the 20th century, and continue to interfere right now. The question is not whether we interfere or not – everything you do on a daily basis interferes with the ecology of this planet. The question is whether that interference is positive or negative (or, in some cases, just plain “least negative”). If we look at the rare and unique ecosystems that once filled San Francisco and are now limited to tiny pockets, I believe I fall on the of positive interference on their behalf, whereas those who support the eucalyptus/ivy/blackberry forest are on the side of continued negative interference that lessens the chance that many of the species that populated those ecosystems will continue to exist.

    • webmaster says:

      Jonathan, I think “positive” and “negative” here are being construed according to your preferences. To us, what you suggest is not positive at all, but actually destructive. Of course, human beings have interfered; this is a city. But they can leave areas alone to nature now. It’s one thing to preserve an ecosystem that already has endangered species on it; it’s another to destroy an existing ecosystem in the hope of restoring one that was there before the city was built.

      No one would suggest knocking down most of the housing on the mountain to “restore” habitat even though it’s of more recent origin and supports less wildlife. Our approach is to work with the ecosystems that exist today: a patchwork of habitats of various kinds.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Janet – wouldn’t the same logic that says that we can’t feed hamsters to coyotes suggest that we don’t allow predation at all? Those hamsters are fed to ferrets, domestic cats kill mice, people eat cows, and wild coyotes hunt rabbits. I do not oppose any of those interactions.

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