Urban-Wildland Interface

In California, when you hear the term “urban-wildland interface,” it’s generally used to describe suburbs that have sprawled so far into the hinterlands that whole subdivisions are in the middle of areas that are prone to burning. In fact, a little Google research suggests that the term occurs together with “fire” about seven out of eight times it’s used. But I don’t want to talk about fire. I want to talk about deer running wild in the flatlands neighborhood where we live.

In the Bay Area, as in most of the rest of California and as in most of the country, deer have become very numerous in the past 20 or 30 years. This has led to colorful side effects such as the appearance of mountain lions and coyotes on the fringe or urban areas (I’ve never seen a mountain lion; but a couple years ago I spotted a coyote loping across the road ahead of me when I was on a bike ride about 10 miles from home; and hiking in the hills I’ve come across part of a deer, in carcass form, that had been taken apart by something with good strong jaws).

Deer, on the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of. There are so many in the hills, both inside and outside town, that when you’re riding a bike back down to the flats near dusk you keep an eye out for any that might be crossing the road. I’d say the first time I saw them near our house, well below the hills, about a decade ago. A panicked looking young male went clattering by one night when I was out for a walk. The sightings have become more frequent. Our neighbor Piero set up a motion-sensitive camera in his mother’s backyard to try to find out what was destroying her flower garden. The culprits, captured in pictures just about every night, are a small but healthy deer family that apparently has taken up permanent residence in a neighbor’s untended lot. Some people here think that deer travel down from the hills after dark, moving along the creeks that run toward the bay and through our unfenced parks. In a sense, they’re moving the urban-wildland interface right into the heart of the city.

Tonight’s example: I was just out taking the dog for his final neighborhood patrol of the day. A couple blocks away, alongside a big elementary school, a deer came bounding onto the sidewalk about 50 yards ahead of us, then went springing down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. The dog followed at a trot. The deer stood at the next corner; as we approached, it trotted north down the intersecting street, followed by another deer in that vaulting gait they use to jump hedges and fences and, now, to navigate the byways of North Berkeley.

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