Breathe easy, and don’t mind the raccoons

A smokestack in Detroit.

A smokestack in Detroit.

By Jim Tortolano, E Pluribus Unum

A raccoon walked into our house. Brazenly strolled through the open casement doors one morning and looked around like he was a potential buyer. Then, he strolled back out.

That might not seem like a big deal if you live in the back country, someplace rural and rustic, but it occurred in our suburban neighborhood not far from Los Angeles.

This is small news, almost microscopic, really, except that it illuminates a welcome problem surfacing in America: the return of the wild.  All over our community, and all across the nation, increasingly robust (and daring) wild animals are pushing their way into suburban and urban neighborhoods.

Much of this is a consequence of the environmental movement that began in the early Seventies. Slowly but surely, the emphasis on pollution control and protection of endangered species has reversed a decades-long slash-and-burn approach to nature.

The Dec. 9 issue of Time magazine has a cover story on the issue, framing it as “America’s Pest Problem.”  Yes, the emergence of bears, coyotes, raccoons and even wild pigs into backyards and even business districts has become an annoyance, raising the issue of urban hunting to keep animal populations under control.  Coyotes are especially troublesome, even preying on cats and small dogs.

There is, however, an “up” side of this “problem.” In an era when many people doubt the ability of government to do anything right, the return of “Rocky Raccoon,” as we named our little visitor, is evidence of the contrary. Much-maligned laws and rules about recycling, saving the infamous spotted owl, and pollution control have had worked a tremendous change in our environment.

Raccoon climbing a tree.

Raccoon climbing a tree.

As a kid growing up, my peers and I endured many smog alerts which cut recesses and curtailed physical education classes. There were many days in the summer and autumn when you couldn’t go out of doors without feeling your eyes sting and your lungs ache from all the poison in the atmosphere.

Of course, some carmakers and other manufacturers complained that environmental regulations would hurt their business and might even be impossible to comply with. It’s a refrain we’ve heard for decades now and always turns out to be wrong.

For those of us with children and even grandchildren, it’s gratifying to walk outside and actually breathe the air. To visit a river or stream that’s clear and free-flowing. To know that we’re passing on to the next generation a country and a world that’s a little bit better than it used to be.

And if the price for all of this is putting a lock on the trash bin so that Rocky doesn’t turn our refuse bins into his favorite restaurant, so be it. To update Joni Mitchell, we finally knew what it was that was gone, and we were smart enough to get it back.


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  1. Wayne Sherwood says:

    Now do the flip side. Write about wild animals invading urban areas as more human development takes over the animal’s natural habitats.

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