Opinion

A fed wild animal is a dead wild animal | Editorial

At San Juan Island National Historical Park, particularly the American Camp prairie, the drama and wonder of animal life unfolds before our very eyes. Deer graze. Fox kits play as their mothers hunt. Eagles and hawks swoop over the prairie and perch on fences and snags, looking for their next meal. Mice, rabbits and voles contribute to the cycle of life.

But there are other activities we’ve seen that distress us: Visitors to the park stop their cars and lure fox kits with food so they can snap a photograph. Visitors let their dogs run off leash. A jogger runs through the park, letting her dog run free and bark at wildlife.

These activities are distressing because they upset the self-sustaining balance of prairie life.

They are also against the law.

“Most people know that hunting and trapping are not allowed in national parks, yet many people may not realize that approaching or feeding animals is also prohibited,” one of the National Park system’s Web sites explains.

“These actions are against park regulations because they are harmful to animals. When you approach too closely to wildlife, you may cause them stress and interfere with behaviors necessary for their survival.”

About feeding wildlife, the Web site states: “Animals that are fed by people become dependent on human food, and may lose their natural fear of humans and their ability to forage for natural foods. There is a lot of truth to the saying, ‘a fed animal is a dead animal.’ In addition to losing their foraging ability, animals that have been fed are less likely to survive (for) other reasons. Animals that have been fed from cars congregate near roadways and are at a high risk of being killed by vehicle collisions.”

Feeding wildlife at the national park is against the law. The first offense yields a $100 fine and radically increases for subsequent offenses. (Letting your dog run off leash yields a $50 fine.) Because it’s federal land, it’s prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Bellingham. It’s night court, which means you’ll have to spend the night on the mainland.

San Juan Island National Historical Park, like the rest of the island, is a sanctuary. Enjoy watching wildlife. But enjoy watching from a distance.

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