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by Wendy Vapors, 9/15/00

Dc: This is DCR, it's not the news. Increasing development moving into formerly wooded areas has led to more conflicts between wild creatures and suburban dwellers. It's a difficult problem that calls for a new kind of solution, as Wendy Vapors reports.

(sfx: wind, jeep over rough terrain, like a safari)

Wendy: I thought there was nothing at all wild about the suburbs, until I took a ride with Paul Merkins of "Backyard Safaris."

Merkins: Hanging on all right Ms. Vapors?

Wendy: (int) Urp. I'll be all right.

Merkins: Our patience is about to pay off. If you'll look over there...

Wendy: Where?

Merkin: Behind the child's playset! In the sandbox! See it? Just behind the Barney bucket?

Wendy: A raccoon?

Merkin: Yes. A sneaky one. He's measuring the distance between the hedgerow in back and the homeowner's garden. If he sees us, he'll likely make a run for the area under the deck.

Wendy: Is that bad?

Merkin: Once he's under there, it's a fair bet he'll never come out. Pardon me. Mmmbootoo. Kalli Gwaza. Tick tick. Foo gambi.

Driver: Ahhh. Poo gak.

Merkin: Dah Nootay.

Wendy: What are you saying?

Merkin: I'm telling our driver... if the beast makes a move, we'll attempt to head him off by the gas grill. We can't afford to let even one raccoon establish a toehold here.

Wendy: (vo) Paul Merkins has been observing wildlife in the suburbs for three decades. He is a lone voice in the wilderness, advocating a peaceful co-existence between suburban wildlife, and the homeowners whose territory continues to expand into areas that were formerly wild.

Ted: We have our own private street system. The community is gated, of course. And we have very strict standards for mailboxes and house numbering. That sort of thing.

Wendy: Ted Fussing is chairman of the Pinnacle Point Homeowner's Association.

Ted: We share upkeep on the tennis court and we used to do the same on the swimming pool, until just about everybody in the development built their own. So we took out the community pool and replaced it with the facility that seems to be at the heart of the current controversy.

Wendy: The controversy Ted Fussing refers to is the decision by the Pinnacle Point Homeowner's Association to build a jail for animal offenders.

Ted: The county ordinance prevents capital punishment.
So we decided to incarcerate them here for trespassing.

Wendy: (int) But do you have the authority to do that?

Ted: It says in the covenant that guides our development... "unauthorized pets are not permitted." I happen to sit on the pet review committee.
We have instituted a total ban on raccoons. Pythons. Peacocks. Possum. Armadillos.

Wendy: What if they're not pets?

Ted: We assume they are and we jail them immediately. Including gophers.

Wendy: Gophers?

Ted: Gophers disturb the lawn aesthetics and wreak havoc with the underground sprinklers. For the sake of property values, we had to ban them.

Wendy: I visited the Pinnacle Point Offending Animal Facility and spoke to Warden Kay McKay.

(sfx: animal's lounge)

Kay: When a perpetrator is brought to us, we take mug shots, paw prints (if there are paws), otherwise we measure flippers, tentacles... and remove any articles they might use to harm themselves such as tracking collars and then we put them in solitary confinement.
Which they hate, especially the pack animals.

Wendy: But ultimately the animal offenders must be released.

Ted: We think keeping them in jail for 48 hours is enough of an inconvenience so that they'll realize it isn't good to be hanging around our neighborhood.

Wendy: Do you really suppose the animals think that much about what's happening to them?

Ted: Just because I grew up in the suburbs, don't think I'm ignorant about nature. I know that animals are very wise.

Wendy: They are?

Ted: Bambi's mother. Mufasa. (etc.)

Wendy: In the movies?

Ted: I've seen a lot of nature movies. I know that animals reason. They talk amongst themselves. Sometimes they wear clothes. The white rabbit. Jimminy Cricket. But you don't get to see that too often.

Wendy: The secret is out.

Ted: They talk among themselves, too. We're hoping word will spread, this is Pinnacle Point is one place you want to stay away from. Kinda like Farmer Brown's place in Peter Rabbit.

Wendy: Where do you release them?

Ted: We take them about two miles down the county road to a very nice wooded area and we let them go with a stern warning.

Wendy: But that wooded area you're talking about is fifty feet from another gated development, The Bogs at Serene Woods. Tempestt Tossler is president of The Bogs at Serene Woods homeowner's association.

Tossler: No, we don't have a jail for wild animals here at The Bogs at Serene Woods.
We have a 24 hour service on call to come out and round up trespassing animals and take them back to where they came from up at Pinnacle Point.

Wendy: All of which seems foolish to Paul Merkins of "Backyard Safaris".

(sfx: jeep in outback)

(sfx: rummaging in cans)

Merkins: If they could learn to appreciate the beauty of these creatures as they appear in the wild. Like that lovely skunk over there, rummaging around in the recycling due to be picked up tomorrow.

Wendy: Wow... I've never actually seen a skunk that wasn't flat!

Merkins: Yes, they're quite cute, aren't they? Let's have the driver pull a little closer Mgoobtu! Kwalli fudu.

Driver: Noogootoo.

Wendy: What's he saying?

Merkins: He's saying it is bad luck. I'm afraid you'll find a great many local suspicions like that out here amongst the simple people in the outer suburbs. Loogoobub. Fooglee putu.

Driver: Ak!

(sfx: jeep begins to move, slowly)

Wendy: What did you say?

Merkins: I threatened to confiscate his punch card from the local espresso shop. One must know how to negotiate with the locals or it's a very tough out here.

Wendy: Do you think we're close enough?

Merkins: In all likelihood. Let's hit it with the spotlight, shall we, and get a really good look at this skunk.

(sfx: light on)

Wendy: Skunks, I should say. Look at them all.

Driver: Eeegonbe!

Merkins: Get us out of here!

Wendy: Agh!

Merkins: Too late!

Driver: Aiiiieee!

Wendy: (vo) Our unfortunate encounter with the suburban skunk population was not the first to occur in that area, nor will it be the last. But when I returned to Pinnacle Point to ask Homeowner's Association president Ted Fussing how he might deal with an invasion of striped guests, he was reluctant to let me through the gate.

Ted: (off mic) Sorry, we have an odor ordinance, and you would violate it if you came in here.

Wendy: But it seems to me the problem won't go away!

Ted: Maybe not, but will you? Please?

Wendy: And so... as the territories of humans and wild creatures continue to overlap, more conflict and denial are expected, rather than less. I'm Wendy Vapors, and I'm reporting.


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