The Accidental Ecosystem: Behind the Rise of Urban Wildlife in American Cities | Books
“Aanimals that do well in cities do things that in many ways resemble what people do. Peter Alagona, author of The Accidental Ecosystem – a new book about how wildlife makes habitats out of cities – talks about one of his favorite creatures: bears. He explains how, in part, they thrive in our cities because they look so much like us. “I love bears – they’re smart, they raise their cubs, they learn, they have culture. They look a lot like us.
As The Accidental Ecosystem explains, bears have come back from the brink of extinction largely because they have thrived in urban areas – a patch of land in an urban area can support 40 times more bears than the same amount of space in the desert. Figuring out what to do with these bears wasn’t easy, as they scared the townspeople and wreaked havoc. Alagona recounts the LAPD record of taking them down, and it also explains how desperate Southern Californians turned to a low-level celebrity named Steve Searls, a so-called bear whisperer. (While Searls has successfully leveraged his notoriety for taming bears on his own reality TV show, he has a disappointing track record for getting bears to listen to him.) Alagona reports that zero apart people haven’t been particularly successful in figuring out how to address the bear issue.
This is all to the point of Alagona – that as wildlife like bears have increasingly thrived in urban areas, we have created “accidental ecosystems” that we are still figuring out what to do with. Unused to thinking of cities as spaces where wide varieties of animals co-exist alongside us, we’ve mostly maintained the old-fashioned idea that these creatures live strictly in the wild. But Alagona argues that this view is both factually incorrect and harmful. “In the United States, there’s a cultural idea that nature exists outside of us, and that real nature exists in a place like a natural park,” Alagona said. “This view is problematic in many ways.”
One of the problems with this way of thinking is that while nature has come to us, we have been slow to accept it; therefore, we have yet to update our urban practices and cultural beliefs to better align with the fact that these animals are here to stay. “Although wildlife has declined dramatically around the world,” Alagona said, “more people are living closer to wildlife than ever before. So conservationists are spending a lot of time on this issue of conflict and coexistence. But it’s hard to know how to coexist when there isn’t a long tradition of it.
In The Accidental Ecosystem, Alagona looks at how we can build a tradition of coexistence by examining, chapter by chapter, many animals that have found natural niches in cities – among them deer, squirrels, wolves , bats, seals and eagles. It brings together a rich collection of cautionary tales and teachable moments, while writing a story about how cities became habitats for wild animals.
When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they chose to locate their colonies in areas remarkably rich in biodiversity. In order to build cities, they wiped out much of this biodiversity, then created colonies rich in domesticated animals under the control of humans. Biodiversity continued to decline as cities turned into huge urban centers around the turn of the 20th century, becoming more depopulated of wildlife than ever. But after World War II, as the great urban theorists began creating new concepts for cities, the exact things humans did to make them more liveable for us also made them attractive to animals. As cities reinvented themselves, animals returned.
“We now have more wildlife than we’ve ever seen before in these towns,” Alagona said. “These are strange but rich ecosystems.”
Dating back to the 19th century, The Accidental Ecosystem shows exactly how cities grew from areas without nature – for example, in the 18th and 19th centuries, trees were banned in many urban centers as fire threats. – to entities that have become much more connected. to the nature that surrounds them. Notably, this happened unintentionally, and humans were slow to notice it. Because we have sleepwalked into creating urban ecosystems where nature thrives, Alagona argues, it is now important that we recognize this and become more thoughtful and determined about development in the future.
Alagona is abundantly clear that urban waterfowl are a good thing, going so far as to state that “the recent wildlife explosion in American cities is one of the greatest ecological success stories since dawn. conservation”. He argues that our collective existence with animals is more intertwined than we realize, and so decisions that are good for wildlife will generally be good for people. Preaching care, not control, he wants us to abandon the idea of managing urban wildlife through private “pest control” companies and instead view city animals from the perspective of the common good, the cultural humility and fulfillment together.
These are still relatively new ideas. As a field of study, urban ecology is still emerging and only beginning to produce research and practical applications. “One of the things I’ve really learned is that coexisting with wildlife is a difficult and time-consuming thing,” Alagona said, “especially if the species people are living with are new. for them. We always try to find culturally appropriate ways to live with animals. Part of that comes from seeing that while cities may not resemble our idea of pristine wilderness, that doesn’t mean they aren’t places of nature and natural processes that we now share with wild animals, whether we like it or not. “Coexistence is like a long-term relationship,” Alagona said. “It takes work, but I think it’s worth it.”