November 26, 1992

Berkeley City Council

Attn: Nancy Skinner

2180 Milvia Street

Berkeley, California 94704

Re: Wildlife? In Berkeley?


Tuesday morning at 5:30 I was walking south on College Avenue just south of Woolsey on the way to work. A woman driving north in a small car skidded and stopped in the middle of the street. When I reached her, I noticed an adult raccoon crawling on its stomach in the middle of the road, badly hurt, trying desperately to pull itself across the street to the west side of College. Apparently, its hind legs weren't working.

I continued on to the phone at Alcatraz and called 911. I told the woman who answered that a raccoon had been hit and needed to see a veterinarian immediately. She told me that she couldn't help me, and that I would have to wait a couple of hours, until the "Animal Control" personnel came on duty. I pointed out that all she had to do was look in the Yellow Pages under "veterinarians" and call one of the emergency numbers listed there. She told me "we don't call private companies".

By that time, the woman had (bravely!) dragged the animal to the side of the road and arrived at the phone. She was very upset. She told me that the raccoon was rubbing its head. I left her with the yellow pages and continued on toward BART. At Safeway I found a policeman and told him the situation. He didn't seem very concerned, and just said he would "look into it".

A number of things concern me about this incident. Are we so mindless of other species that our only concern is how to "Control" them (i.e., make sure they don't hurt us or our pets, clean up the mess, and if necessary, "put them out of their misery")? What hubris! Are there by definition no emergencies for other species, because they are so unimportant, so expendable? It is as if we were to say that Berkeley ambulances were only to go as far as the border of Berkeley, and that if someone happened to be bleeding on the south side of Alcatraz, they wouldn't do anything about it. Or if people of the "wrong race" were to get inferior emergency care.

At the entrance to most U.S. cities, there is a sign giving the name of the city and its population and elevation. Of course, that population figure includes only human beings. There is absolutely no consideration that other species also make their homes there. I haven't seen such signs for Berkeley, but there is one announcing Oakland and its 450,000 (?) humans at the top of Claremont Avenue.

Why is there no recognition of the fact that we stole this land from native people and wildlife? That wild animals still live here and have the same needs that we have to travel in order to mate or find food and water? Where is the provision for wildlife corridors for animals to safely travel from the ridges to the bay or wherever else they need to go, without having to cross the paths of deadly motor vehicles? (For that matter, our own children and elderly also often fall victim to these same deadly streets!)

Our thinking is reflected in our institutions. Instead of having a city department to look after the welfare of the other species with which we share Berkeley (e.g. Richard Register told me that the population of newts is much greater than the human population), we have a department to "control" them and keep their dead bodies from messing up our streets and lawns.

Before we push any more species over the brink to extinction, it is time that we fix these gaps: re-open the creeks that flow (underground or culverted) through Berkeley and expand them into wildlife corridors. Connect these fingers of open space to our parks. (Incidentally, the parks can be just as important to our native people, children, elderly, and poor.) Every park should be connected to every other park via a wildlife corridor, perhaps also including a people trail and a bicycle path. No roads should interrupt these corridors; roads should instead tunnel underneath them. Wildlife, native people, children, the elderly, and the poor can't protect themselves, and so need the attention of a properly staffed city agency. Our species bias is probably also reflected in our schools and textbooks, and should be eliminated from them.

Creating more open space within the city will eliminate some housing. The homeless should be trained in the skills necessary to build the wildlife corridors and the replacement housing, including housing themselves. That housing should be created, of course, close to public transit. Ripping up roads and parking lots to create wildlife corridors will create another important benefit: reduce opportunities to drive, and hence auto dependence. I-80 should be turned back into an expressway, with traffic lights and at-grade street crossings that will make our waterfront once again easily accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists (people and goods that must get somewhere quickly should go via rail, not on the freeway).


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.