When the pandemic started, California leaders closed state parks and trails to limit people’s interactions and ultimately limit the spread of the virus. Once the pandemic was over, all state parks and trails opened up and were surprised to see a meteoric rise in visitors.
Although that may be a good thing for society — especially people who use these public spaces to aid in their mental, emotional, and physical health — wildlife and the natural ecosystems are harmed by the frequent and massive visitations of humans and their animals.
“When you release pets, turtles, or even insects into the wild, if it’s not their natural habitat, they can cause an ecosystem disturbance, which could be lethal to everybody.” Becky Tuden, ecological services manager at the East Bay Regional Park District said during a recent Ethnic Media Services zoom meeting. She noted that when humans try to control or manipulate natural habitats, they are causing more harm than good.
Tuden’s stewardship department’s mission is to acquire, preserve, protect and operate regional parklands in perpetuity for public use. Tuden also highlighted the environmental challenges forcing wildlife into more populated areas.
“We need to better protect parks, working together and watching the usage of parks and making sure we make paths that do not affect the ecosystem or disturb wildlife habits,” she said.
Doug Bell, the Wildlife Program Manager with the East Bay Regional Park District suggests different things people and park managers can do to reduce wildlife threats. “The first thing is to enjoy and not disturb wildlife, the second is to not feed the animals in the park, and the third thing is never to release your animals into the park because that is not their natural habitat.”
Bell said that when business, housing, or anything to do with acquiring land for construction build on these greenlands, it causes natural disturbance and human activity. This also causes disturbance to animal habitat problems as some wildlife don’t have the proper environment to breed, causing their species to become endangered. He also noted that feeding wildlife can cause trouble for the park workers.
“Animals can contract diseases from contaminated food, cause animals to become unstable, and have them fighting amongst each other over the food if the food originated from the trash can,” he said.
Bell wants people to stop releasing their pets into the wild because they won’t be able to survive.
“When the pandemic started, many people left their pet cats in the wild because they couldn’t afford them and assumed they would be fine. Cats can raise a sense of hostility in wildlife parks and become dangerous if they group with other cats.”
Park leaders want everybody to be self and aware of their surroundings when going on hikes and want people to follow the rules so not only are they safe but the wildlife is safe.