“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
As I pulled onto my street at 11 p.m. last night, I saw a sight I had never seen in nearly 20 years of living in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood: a beautiful young deer milling around the intersection of 76th Avenue and 242nd Place. She stood in the middle of the road, apparently confused. My friend jumped out of the car to take pictures of this novel sight, while I waited in the car a few yards away, so as not to spook the deer.
To my dismay, a car came rumbling down the opposite direction on the street, not bothering to slow down or share the road with the timorous young animal in front of his vehicle. My friend shooed the little deer toward the side to let the other driver pass and we watched in horror as the panicked animal sprinted away from the other car, straight into traffic on 76th. My friend cautiously approached the deer on foot and I followed slowly in the car, afraid that they would both get run over. Drivers come roaring down 76th at 60+ mph sometimes, even at night. The sound of screaming engines racing down the hill routinely wakes my mother up at 2 a.m.
The fawn darted from sidewalk to sidewalk across both lanes of traffic on 76th, barely avoiding vehicles that didn’t seem to register her presence. My friend, still on foot, “herded” the little deer out of the busy street. I followed in my car to give them cover, because the drivers on 76th were not slowing down to give the deer a chance to get out of the road. We tried to maneuver the deer into a wooded area, but she could easily return to the busy road once we were gone. I called animal control, got voicemail, and then, as instructed by the voicemail message, called the police’s nonemergency line. The local police politely told us that we could contact state patrol, but otherwise they could not intervene unless the deer was injured.
I was disappointed, because I’m afraid that this beautiful little deer is going to end up as roadkill. As hundreds of deer do every year in Washington state.
There are any number of reasons why the little deer found herself all alone by Lake Ballinger. A potential culprit is the recent deforestation occurring in South Snohomish County to accommodate the light rail. As local wildlife continues to be displaced by rapid development in their habitat, human-wildlife conflicts will only become more common in Edmonds. We have to implement strategies to respond to distressed wildlife in hazardous, manmade situations.
As with most environmental concerns, Edmonds has the opportunity to take a leadership role and set an example for other cities on how to do the right thing. On their website, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lay out a plan to enable homeowners to turn their private land into a “backyard wildlife sanctuary.” Why not take that tack toward the entire city?
Just at our home by 76th, I’ve heard coyotes howling at night, seen raccoons raiding trash cans, watched eagles engage in arial combat with crows, delighted in baby cottontail rabbits darting around the lawn, wrangled possums and chipmunks that snuck into the garage, and now rescued a young deer playing chicken with nighttime traffic. It feels like our backyard has always been a wildlife sanctuary.
Urban wildlife are just as precious and beloved as our cats, dogs, bunnies, pet birds, etc. If any of us noticed a domesticated animal darting through traffic, of course we would jump out of our car and try to get the animal to safety. Why should the response be so different for wild animals at risk due to human behavior? Are we being responsible environmental stewards if we abandon our wildlife to contend with the disruption wrought on their homes by human encroachment? I don’t think that’s an adequate response. But we have the opportunity to do better by becoming a “sanctuary city” for local wildlife.