Invasive pests not deserving of our sympathy

Human settlers created much of the pest problems we have in the lower mainland

There has been a lot of sympathy and empathy voiced in recent years about how our continuing development of our forests in the lower mainland for other human purposes has been driving out “wildlife”.

In some cases this concern is warranted. The spotted owl, the Oregon spotted frog and the Salish sucker are indigenous species that have lived here for millennia before the arrival of white settlers. These species have become endangered because we’ve destroyed their historic habitats in the forest and streams of the Fraser Valley.

However, this concern is misplaced when it comes to several species that have invaded this area, due strictly to human habitation, specifically by the settlers who’ve arrived here over the past century or so. And indeed, many of these invasive species have also put the indigenous species at risk.

For example, the coyotes, who have thrived on our coast over recent decades, were unknown to the original aboriginal inhabitants. Coyotes first came to this side of the Rockies when they followed the colonial settlers who built passes through the mountains for the railways. The coyotes followed because it opened new territories for food, such as the rodents who’ve always lived here or the livestock that the settlers brought here.

And last week in Surrey, a coyote knocked a small child to the ground near a Surrey playground and had to be scared away by a passing adult. What the coyote’s intent was is not known for certain, but it’s disturbing. Wildlife officers said they are left no choice but to destroy the offending coyote.

Another invasive species that has taken territory away from indigenous species is the now all-too-common California grey squirrel. When I was a young lad, 40 years ago, the small Douglas squirrel was a common sight here, on the acreage my family built our home on in Aldergrove. The larger grey squirrel has driven out the Douglas squirrel — I have not seen one of these cute little fellows for years, whereas the grey squirrels have run amok on the family property, voraciously stripping our fruit and nut trees, burrowing into our attic spaces whenever they can and breeding prolifically. They are a pest of the worst kind.

More recently in Aldergrove there has been an outcry about how rats have, according to some popular theories, been driven out of wooded areas when developers have stripped the land for housing.

The fact is that these rats, whether they are the large “Norwegian” variety or the smaller black “roof” (or “tree”) rat variety, are only here because they were brought here on ships from the Orient over the past century or so. The original aboriginal inhabitants were only aware of muskrats and packrats living here in the wild.

Both the Norwegian rats and the roof rats only exist here because they were attracted to the food which they stole from the human settlers.

Now that they have established themselves here their preferred domiciles are either burrows in the basements and crawl spaces of human homes (in the case of the Norwegian rats) or in the attics of human homes or up in fruit trees (in the case of roof rats). This distance is kept between the two species as they do not get along whatsoever. Moreover, they don’t get along with common mice either — if you have mice infesting your home the only good thing about it is that it means you don’t have a rat infestation.

In short, rats do not live in the wild. They live where the food is — which means as close as they can possibly get to humans. This also includes barns, where they can forage for loose livestock feed.

In response to concerns recently expressed by Aldergrove residents about rats and development Langley Township has wisely taken the approach of requiring a pest management plan prior to demolition of old and derelict buildings.

This is sensible, because that’s where you will find the rat infestations, not in the woods.

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