SCARBOROUGH–Urban sprawl has brought a new kind of neighbor to town.

As homes are built in previously undeveloped areas on the edge of wilderness, more and more homeowners are finding wildlife wandering along and through their properties. Or rather, wild animals are finding developments encroaching on their backyard.

It has been an issue in South Portland, where in December City Councilor Tom Blake pushed for the creation of a Fish, Fowl and Animal Advisory Committee to help the city identify and discuss issues with wildlife in the city and educate residents on how to deal with situations when they do arise. That effort, which was shelved after it did not receive council support, was due to reports by residents of a number of close encounters with foxes, among other animals. Walkers near Highland Avenue have reported this summer spotting families of foxes playing near the road.

In neighboring Scarborough, two community groups are coming together to shine a light on the intersection of wildlife and development, by bringing to town an expert on the issue: Stephen DeStefano author of the new book, “Coyotes at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia.”

“In an area like Scarborough, where there is significant sprawl and where we have had a number of issues with sprawl, we have people who are all the time finding they have wildlife in their backyard and not knowing how to deal with it,” said Susan Dewitt Wilder, chairman of the development committee of the Scarborough Land Conservation Trust, who after finishing the book earlier this year asked DeStefano to speak at a joint event with the Scarborough Public Library.

DeStefano will discuss his book Monday, July 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Scarborough Public Library.

The book, published in January by Harvard University Press, examines the interplay between urban sprawl and wandering wildlife, using the coyote, one of the more adaptable animals, as an example.

“I taught writing for years and I really enjoyed reading the book,” said Wilder. “I thought it was a topic and a book that could use broader exposure. The topic is very important for the people in this section of southern Maine.”

DeStefano will also be speaking on his book at 6:30 p.m on July 20, at the Wells Reserve and Laudholm Trust, a national estuarine research reserve in Wells.

To say that DeStefano is familiar with wildlife may be something of an understatement. DeStefano is a research professor for the Department of Natural Resource Conservation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, as well as a leader of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and a member of the Large Animal Rescue Team in Massachusetts.

DeStefano, through his work, has interacted with a variety of wild animals in their natural settings all across North America. It is only recently, however, that he has developed a focus on the wild animals, particularly the coyote, in suburban areas.

“Society’s response to these animal neighbors has been as varied as the human range of emotions: admiration, fear, love and hate,” he said.

“Perhaps no other species triggers a wider array of emotions and behaviors from people than the North American coyote. Before European settlements, the coyote was restricted to the central prairies and plains of western North America,” DeStefano said. “But as the continent was settled and changes, such as the extirpation of wolves, took place, the way was opened for coyotes to disperse.”

“Coyotes,” he said, “now occupy every state in the U.S., except Hawaii, and they are one of the most successful species in North America.”

The book, Wilder said, does not offer ways to fix the problem of wayward wildlife, but rather offers readers an education on wild animals that live on the fringe of our society.

“By using the coyote as an example and explaining their life cycle and role, we have a better understanding of them and how we may have encroached on their space,” Wilder said.

Scarborough Animal Control Officer Chris Creps said he gets calls all the time from people reporting wildlife in their homes or backyards. The calls come from all over town and involve a variety of issues, such as raccoons or squirrels nesting in homes, woodchucks or skunks burrowing under porches, deer, fox or coyotes in the backyard, or even bears looking for food.

“Part of this is because this town has grown so much that it has probably displaced these animals,” he said. “Once they get used to hearing you and seeing you and you put in lush gardens or bird feeders, they are going to be around.”

The lecture at the library has received support and funding from the Massachusetts Humanities Council, Black Point Inn and the Scarborough Fish and Game Association.

Celeste Shinay, manager of programs and development for the Scarborough Public Library, said the library was thrilled to be able to offer the program through the Land Trust.

“Our part,” she said, “is to partner with community organizations whenever we can to provide a venue for an opportunity to gather together for literature events and discussions.”

“For the library anything with a literary-based connection is always important,” she said. “We are not always about the printed page, but that is a significant part of the reason we are here.”

A $352 grant from the Scarborough Fish and Game Association has allowed the library to create reading programs around the book for adults, young adults and children.

The grant allowed the library to purchase additional copies of the book, so that the author’s discussion could almost be a community read event, Shinay said. “There are plenty of copies of the book for people to read in advance of the lecture,” she said.

Shinay said 10 copies of the book, which is part of the adult summer reading program, are available and several more can be made available through MINERVA, an interlibrary loan system.

The Fish and Game Association grant also made it possible for the library to purchase 10 copies of Pamela F. Turner’s “A Life in the Wild,” a book which chronicles conservationist George Schaller’s quest to save wild animals around the world. The book is part of the library’s young adult book club program.

The wildlife theme will continue for younger readers in pre-kindergarten through third grade who will be introduced to “The Wolves are Back,” by Jean Craighead George.

Also as part of the program, staff from Chewonki, a summer camp in Wiscasset for boys and girls, will be coming to the library on July 20 to discuss animal adaptation and predators, complete with live animals.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.