By Richard Conniff [Admin note: While not the typical type of news post found here, this thoughtful piece is highly relevant to all poaching-related stories/the poaching mindset.\
There’s hardly any more common wildlife in cities east of the Mississippi River than the gray squirrel, racing like greased smoke through the tree branches, or foraging, fat and wily, beneath every bird feeder. Watching them can at times induce laugh-out-loud delight—or push us to the brink of madness. (For laughter and madness both, check out any number of videos of failed “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.) On balance, I think most people would agree that city life without squirrels would be a far duller thing.
Until relatively recently, though, a life without squirrels was normal in most American cities. The spectacle of a squirrel in the city was so unusual for much of the 19th century, according to an article just published in the Journal of American History, that when a pet squirrel got loose near New York’s city hall in 1856, hundreds of people gathered to watch—and ridicule—the hapless attempts to recapture it. Squirrels were known not as city dwellers but as shy inhabitants of thick forests and as occasional agricultural pests.
Etienne Benson’s account of how that changed comes at a useful time. Today’s nascent urban wildlife movement is trying to figure out how to bring more birds, butterflies, and other species into the city—and beyond that, how to keep any wildlife alive in an increasingly urbanized world. So how did the squirrel become part of our daily lives even as other species, such as the passenger pigeon and the ivory-billed woodpecker, were being driven to extinction?
"In order to end up with squirrels in the middle of cities,” writes Benson, a University of Pennsylvania historian, “you had to transform the urban landscape by planting trees and building parks and changing the way that people behave. People had to stop shooting squirrels and start feeding them."
Early settlers had exterminated the gray squirrels, sometimes encouraged by bounties. But a few wildlife lovers reintroduced them, first in Philadelphia’s Franklin Square in 1847 and then later in Boston and New Haven, Conn. Supporters provided nest boxes and food, with the idea that wildlife in the city would turn public squares into “truly delightful resorts” and bring pleasure “to the increasing multitudes.”
That effort petered out. But in the decades after the Civil War, the landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted pioneered the urban park movement. He designed landscape-scale parks that threaded through cities, along parkways and waterways, and out into rural areas. (Among his creations: Central Park in Manhattan, Prospect Parks in Brooklyn and Newark, N.J., and a ring of parks around Milwaukee, Wis.) More....