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Citizen X versus the Skunk Haters

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 4, 2003


"One must always be aware, to notice- even though the cost of noticing is to become responsible." — Thylias Moss

In the spirit of full disclosure I admit to currently co-habitating with a family of skunks. They live under the deck, just outside my home office. Opossums reside beneath the deck as well, in the vicinity of the patio table. As neighbors we live in balance. A native of Southern California, I can't remember a time or place when skunks were not a part of my immediate community. I like skunks. As it turns out, skunks like me. This latter observation is based on the fact I have never been sprayed. We're cool.

What's not to love about a skunk? Skunks are cute, quiet, well behaved, and generally shy. They eat grubs, bugs, and other creepy crawlies, including rodents. Nocturnally oriented, skunks work the night shift, require little in the way of space, and generally prefer to be left alone. Oh sure they can raise a stink when scared or pissed off. But that is only when provoked.

I'm on record as being "Pro skunk."

So- you can imagine my reaction when hearing about a local resident being harassed by members of her gated community for the behavior of striped skunks (Mephitis, mephitis.) The infraction? Not preventing skunks from eating cat food used in feral rescue efforts. I kid you not. What started with an act of kindness has morphed into an odious look at human nature.

First you have Citizen X, your typical bunny hugger successfully trapping feral cats and finding them homes. Next you have skunks, indigenous residents of coastal communities, predating western culture by hundreds of thousand of years. Recognizing a free meal, said skunks take advantage of the kitty chow. Rounding out the cast of characters are the NIMBY neighbors unwilling to share the planet with small, maligned mammals. You see where this is going.

Like or not, conservation, preservation, and restoration, are now ingrained in the fabric of California culture. There is always going to be a nice lady feeding the birds, a cat lady helping ferals, and the rescue guy fostering injured wildlife. One should expect no less from the birthplace of David Brower, and Dian Fossey and the adopted home of John Muir.

Other immigrants see things differently. And just as there will always be biocentric people, there will be those who see the humane treatment of non-domestic animals as a threat to their own humanity. Completely divorced from the natural world, an alarming number of people are unmoved by the plight of species trying to find a niche in the suburban west. Paradoxically these folks will be the first to tell you they did not move to California, for the sake of living with California natives. Hello?

It bears repeating: Skunks were here first! The least we could do is to let them continue trying to adapt to humanity's avarice and disconnect.

But I digress.

Citizen X is actively removing feral cat colonies from coastal neighborhoods. Although an effective cat bait, cat food can become skunk snack. Neighbors of Citizen X do what most people do, which is fear for their sense of order. Such fear leads to angry neighbors with Yellow Pages in hand screaming about extermination. Next comes a letter from newby NIMBY, of 6 months, threatening criminal action "through a relative at the Fish and Game Department." I kid you not.

Trying to mitigate passive aggressive hostility, Citizen X sends concerned neighbors a letter explaining the issue regarding skunk populations, local biology, and contributing factors such as over-irrigation, topography, pesticide use, and recent development pressures. Citizen X also includes a number for a humane wildlife removal service. Still the hostility continues.

That's when I get a call from my neighborhood cat lady asking me to write about another cat lady (Citizen X) who has run afoul of the skunk haters. Being Pro Skunk I jump into action.

Placing a call to Citizen X, I spend an hour on the phone getting the 411. To make a long story short - development sucks, skunks have rights, someone has to rescue feral cats, and can't we all just get along? She was also adamant, and wants the world to know, she is not feeding skunks.

I think it is safe to say human beings, as a species, do not play well with others. Or each other, for that matter. Treating animals in a humane way, while working towards ecological balance, should be rewarded not vilified. Consideration is a good thing.

We can begin by sharing our habitat with other species.

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