Posts tagged urban wildlife

“Why can’t we have an ecology for the rest of us, the ones who don’t want to jump into a pair of shorts and hike up a mountain yodeling?”

This quote from an interview with Timothy Morton, a contemporary philosopher and dark ecologist, has really stuck with me. Looking for ecology in the city can help us redefine our perceptions about nature and what it means to be ecologically aware. Sometimes finding ecology is about scale and looking more closely to see what is already there.

Vacant Lot, Koreatown, Los Angeles, CA_1

While looking out at the city of Los Angeles from a friend’s rooftop in Koreatown, the scale of ecology was vast and somewhat impersonal. Nature seemed far away:  mountains in the distance with clouds slowly drifting overhead, networks of cars in motion, a stationary parade of billboards with palm trees poking out above the buildings in between, and a vacant lot below.

Vacant Lot, Koreatown, Los Angeles, CA_3

Vacant Lot, Koreatown, Los Angeles, CA_2

But zoomed in for a closer look and the gap between nature and me diminishes. A lot that appeared vacant from a distance became full of life, with bees moving from one flower to the next. I guess the distance between nature and me can be as near or far as I am willing to perceive.

For local residents and visitors alike, Los Angeles can feel like a maze – a vast sprawl of neighborhoods intersected by a confusing tangle of freeways and overpasses. Now imagine how our local wildlife must feel trying to navigate these human constructed urban barriers while in search of safe habitat, food, and the increasing precious resource of water!

Lately, there has been a lot of news coverage about wildlife suffering because of inaccessibility across human infrastructure, whether it be declining populations of migrating monarch butterflies to the famously stranded local celebrity, P-22, the Griffith Park mountain lion. Various organizations have studied creating wildlife “corridors” and their positive effects on reconnecting wildlife populations to their natural habitat.

Banff_Wildlife Crossing_01_ copy

Last year I went to Banff National Park in Canada and got to see a wildlife crossing in person, one spanning across and underneath a freeway. In theory wildlife corridor connect vital habitats and allow safe passage across dangerous busy roads. I was curious whether they make an impact. Based on Parks Canada’s monitoring research, and in collaboration with other institutions, researchers discovered there was an initial learning curve animals had to overcome to begin using these crossings. It took up to 5 years before large animals like grizzly bears, elk, and deer felt secure enough to use the newly built crossings.

Researchers also discovered particular animals exhibited specific preferences for wildlife corridors: grizzly bears, elk, moose, and deer prefer high and wide crossings of shorter distances, while black bears and cougars prefer long, low, and narrow crossings. In time, these crossings have reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by more than 80% inside Banff National Park.

Can similar wildlife crossings be implemented in Los Angeles to provide safe movement for animals, especially in a city where rapid urbanization has taken a toll on Los Angeles wildlife?

The National Wildlife Federation and Santa Monica Mountains Fund have started a campaign to create a safe wildlife crossing across the 101 freeway in Agoura Hills. This crossing proposes to connect the Santa Monica Mountains of the south with the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.

Additionally, the UC Davis Road Ecology Center created a volunteer-based wildlife observation project inviting residents to submit roadkill observations. The data allows researchers to better understand the migration pattern of animals, and in turn, identify areas where a safe passage may be needed. Researchers believe with the current drought in California there may be an increase in the number of roadkill, as animals are putting themselves in greater risk in search for ever scarcer food and water sources.

So how can design help save wildlife?

Image: ARC Design Competition by HNTB+MVVA

Image: ARC Design Competition by HNTB+MVVA

Organizations like ARC (Animal Road Crossing) – an interdisciplinary partnership working to facilitate new thinking, methods, materials, and design solutions for wildlife crossing structures – is an example of design coming to the aid of wildlife. ARC began with the International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition in 2010 to engage innovative design teams of landscape architects, engineers, transportation, and ecological professionals to develop solutions for a next generation of wildlife crossing that would be cost efficient, ecologically responsive, safe, and flexible.

It will be interesting to see how Southern California reacts to effects of longterm drought on the local populations of wildlife which increasingly find themselves with nowhere to go.


San Marcos pigeons

AHBE Lab’s posts focusing upon urban wildlife throughout March have revealed interesting stories and varied insights about human and animal interactions within our city. The topic made me think about my least favorite urban animal, the pigeon, alongside the reasoning behind this negative feeling about one of the most common animals who’ve adapted to city life.

VENICE, IT. October 17, 2007 - Giuseppe Tonini, a daring tourist, has a different take on feeding pigeons in St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy.I have equated the urban pigeon to that of a flying rat, always shooing them away when they come around looking for food. Even when I visited Piazza San Marco in Venice I found their aggressive, scavenging, and gang tactics presence annoying. I am particularly disgusted by the thought of where these birds have landed, and the various germs they carry [Note: photo of bird food in guy’s mouth in Venice. UGH!]

But, in an attempt to discover some level of appreciation for this successfully adaptive urban  species, I looked to art in hopes of discovering a perspective which illuminated the humble pigeon in more positive light. This poem by Carl Sandburg almost makes me feel sympathy for this winged animal.


THE FLUTTER of blue pigeon’s wings
Under a river bridge
Hunting a clean dry arch,
A corner for a sleep-
This flutters here in a woman’s hand.
A singing sleep cry,
A drunken poignant two lines of song,
Somebody looking clean into yesterday
And remembering, or looking clean into
To-morrow, and reading,-
This sings here as a woman’s sleep cry sings.
Pigeon friend of mine,
Fly on, sing on.

-Carl Sandburg

Creative Commons photo: Kat+Sam

Creative Commons photo: Kat+Sam

Every year hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Vaux’s swifts make a nightly stay a few blocks from our Downtown Los Angeles office. The migrating birds bed down for the night on their way from the Pacific Northwest to Central America for the winter. The birds are known for roosting communally in hollowed-out trees, but in Downtown LA they roost in old, brick-lined chimneys—the brick offers a secure grip for the birds while clinging onto the walls (see photo).

If they return in late September this year – and we hope they will – you might spot them around nightfall as they swirl around in the air and then descend, all at once in spiral, into the chimney-bird-hotel for the night.

For more information on Los Angeles wildlife check out SoCal Wild where you can learn more about the Vaux’s swifts, or learn how to volunteer and help survey the local population of bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains. Also coming up is Bird LA Day on May 7, 2016, when the Ace Hotel hosts Birds & Beer, a 21 and older event on their rooftop bar, when attendees are invited to speak with National Park Service bird experts, perched with a bird’s eye view of the city.