We’ve been enjoying a lot of good animal sightings on the back roads recently. On Thanksgiving Day, we were headed over the river and through the woods when I spotted a group of at least four animals on the road up ahead. I quickly called Cindy’s attention to what I thought was a pack of wolves. Most of the critters leapt over the snow bank when they saw us coming, but one stayed on the road. Based on the way they moved, both Cindy and I started to doubt that they were wolves. We were able to get pretty close the remaining animal and it turned out to be a lynx. We were astounded to realize that we had just seen a pack of lynx. One of the cats was clearly bigger than the others, so we’re guessing that it was a family group, but lynx researchers have found that lynx occasionally hunt and travel in small groups. I went almost 30 years without seeing a lynx or a bobcat, but in the last decade I’ve seen several every year. It is good to have the big cats back in the neighborhood.
We’ve also been seeing many other animals as well as enjoying the best grouse hunting that I’ve seen around here in the last 50 years. All of this makes me wonder if we aren’t seeing some wildlife displacement from the huge Pagami Creek Fire. The research on what happens with wildlife during and immediately after large forest fires isn’t very complete, but it does seem to indicate that more animals either escape or survive a fire than you might think. It makes sense from an evolutionary point of view that wildlife that live in a fire-based ecosystem would have developed strategies to survive fire. It also seems like common sense that there isn’t much food for wildlife within the fire boundaries for a while, so most animals and birds would shift to unburned areas until next spring. This has got to play havoc with animal territories, especially in the areas just outside the fire perimeter. On the other hand, I know that sometimes common sense will lead you astray when it comes to wildlife biology, so I’d love to see more research done in this area.
Trapping season is in full swing in Minnesota, and every road in the West End is currently blanketed with traps. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of traps lining every road and logging road in the area. I have no moral objection to trapping. In fact I have great respect for the people who hike or snowshoe their trap lines deep in the forest, reading the sign and matching wits with their prey. I have less respect for what most trapping is nowadays, which seems to be driving around in a pickup truck and setting up a line of traps along the road to catch whatever happens to cross. Even this sort of low-skill trapping wouldn’t bother me, except that I feel strongly that the animals are more valuable to the local economy if they are left alive than they are on a rich person’s back in some remote, foreign city. Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a big part of what draws visitors to this area year-round. It also feels kind of intrusive to have people who don’t necessarily live in the West End suddenly blanketing our roads with smelly baits and traps that can be dangerous and even deadly to local pets. Many of us become attached to the animals we see regularly around our houses and it’s sad to see so many of them suddenly disappear at this time of year.
As with all natural resources, it’s important that we learn to accommodate each other and not intrude too heavily on other people’s chosen enjoyment of the resource.
Don’t forget about the Saturday, Dec. 3 open houses that are happening at every retailer in Tofte that is open at this time of year. They are, for the record, AmericInn Gift Shop, Birch Tree Gift Shop, Bluefin Gift Shop, Coho Café, Northshore Market, Tall Tale Yarn Shop, Tofte Holiday Station Store, Water’s Edge Trading and Waves of Superior Spa. In addition to some great local shopping, there will be treats, visits from Santa and roving carolers. M. J. Huggins is offering a free ornament making class at the yarn shop and Brian Olson is offering full service gas at Holiday. For those of you under the age of 40, full service gas means that someone will pump your gas for you and wash your windshield.
On Dec. 15, Water’s Edge Trading holds their annual men’s shopping night. It is designed for West End men to complete their holiday shopping in the least painful way possible. Beer and personal shopping advice are provided. It is by invitation, so call Water’s Edge if you’d like to participate. You can also call to provide hints to the man in your life, if you know he’s attending.
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.