One afternoon last month I was standing at the end of my driveway when a neighbour pulled over and excitedly yelled that there was a deer on the street.
Looking up, I saw the creature running down McMillen Parkway West, headed for Lakeshore Road.
At first I was thrilled to see such a beautiful creature close up.
A day or two later, on Facebook, I saw a video of two deer making their way down the sidewalk on Christina Street near the post office. A day after that, I read a story about a bear being spotted near Wallaceburg.
And of course not too many years ago a moose was photographed at Bright’s Grove.
When I was growing up in Sarnia no one ever saw such animals in the city. But over the years things slowly started to change. In fact, a couple of years ago I spotted a pair of coyotes loping down Lakeshore Road at 1 a.m., not far from Murphy Road. Not long after that, I saw another coyote crossing Michigan Avenue at dawn. On still another occasion I saw a fox trotting along the beach in broad daylight.
Many other smaller creatures not normally seen in Sarnia began showing up some time ago. During the first 30 years of my life I don’t think I ever saw a rabbit in the city proper, unless they were pets. But in recent decades I’ve seen them so often that I hardly give them a second thought. On some evening walks I have counted half a dozen.
Then there are birds of prey. I never laid eyes on one while growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s on Briarfield Avenue, not far from the corner of Rosedale and Indian. But these days sightings of such magnificent birds in the city are, if not common, at least no longer shocking.
So what’s changed?
Simple. We are destroying their habitats, so wildlife are being forced into urban areas to survive.
According to Nature Conservancy Canada, more than 70 per cent of southern Ontario’s wetlands have been lost to residential and commercial development, conversion to farmland, climate change, pollution and invasive species. And of course woodlands are being cut down to make room for more and more development.
Of course not all of the displaced creatures are moving into urban areas. Many are simply dying off.
A study released a few years back found a 12 percent drop in bird populations in Canada since 1970. Almost 70 species were considered to be at risk of extinction.
Obviously we’re going to need better management of our population growth if we’re going to keep adding people and still maintain a healthy wildlife base. In the early 1960s Canada’s population was about 20 million people. Today, it’s closer to 37 million.
Maybe the answer is more high rise apartment buildings, row housing and smaller lots. It may not be ideal but it’s better than paving over the whole country.
Travel to the United Kingdom and you will see what I mean. The British have retained a great deal of countryside, despite the fact that they have 66.5 million people living on a small island.
Canadians are going to have to get serious about the destruction of habitat or get used to sharing our cities with moose, bears and deer. At least until they’re all dead.