This week’s ill-starred standoff between police and two moose in Orleans was a reminder that the division between the urban and wilderness environment is not as clear-cut as we often assume.

 

No part of Ottawa is very far from the woods, and suburban garbage lures wild animals into contact with humans.

 

Animals can’t read signs. They don’t know whose jurisdiction they’re in. And it turns out we’re not much better.

 

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources used to handle cases like Tuesday’s moose incident in Ottawa. In the 1990s, the job fell to the National Capital Commission. Its contract with the city lapsed two years ago, for reasons nobody seems eager to discuss. The usual jurisdictional bickering we’ve come to know and loathe in Ottawa likely played a role.

 

So when the moose showed up, possibly fleeing the smell of smoke from forest fires in Quebec, dealing with them was nobody’s job in particular.


As in so many last-resort cases, it fell to the police to handle the moose incursion, and it didn’t go well. Our cops are not well-trained to deal with wildlife, but they filled in as well as they could.


After an extended and ineffectual attempt to tranquilize the animals, one escaped and the other, after a close call with an OC Transpo bus, was cornered by police and shot dead.


This, regrettable and inelegant as it was, was our solution. Ditto this winter when a coyote was photographed near the Greenboro Community Centre. A pack live in the area and generally avoid people.


That picture of the coyote trotting past playground equipment sealed its fate. Local residents, seized with the nightmarish fear of losing a pet or even a child, didn’t want to hear about the effect of development encroaching on wilderness habitat. They wanted the threat eliminated — now. The city had that coyote and another one killed.


The animals were diseased and there may not have been an alternative to killing them, but public panic, and political response to that panic, made this outcome more likely.


We can’t avoid the occasional collision with wildlife, so it makes sense for the public and authorities to be better prepared. Better-educated humans would result in fewer dead animals.
It would also be reassuring to see the city, the MNR and the NCC untangle their respective red tape to deal with the reality that people and wildlife are going to continue to encounter each other.


When it happens, there should be better tools available than a bullet.


Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; ottawaletters@metronews.ca.