by Bob Neale
The dog days of summer, marked by the rise of Sirius, the Dog Star, are coming to a sultry, inevitable close. Sniff the wind — you can smell fall coming. But it’s not quite here yet and, lying in the grass at Glen Oaks Ranch ("field work" we call it in the Stewardship Department), my eyes are heavy and my mind drifts … thoughts of dogs lead to thoughts of other canids and memories of a grey fox I saw one afternoon near Stuart Creek. My eye caught movement under the buckeye tree where a handsome little guy popped out from under the bridge. He took a couple steps toward me and then sat down at the edge of the driveway just looking at me. And I looked at him. We remained that way for some time. Suddenly, he turned and scurried back down toward the creek. Delightful encounter.
Grey foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are one of our native canids. You most often see them early in the morning or at dusk. More often, you might see their scat on top of rocks or logs or footbridges as you ramble through Sonoma County. You might also hear their unique yip/bark/yelp coming from the trees and underbrush. Or maybe from up in the trees because gray foxes are the only native canid in North America that can climb trees.
Watching the clouds roll across the sky, I imagined another canid chasing a fox up a tree — coyote (Canis latrans). Interestingly, the word “coyote” has its roots in the Aztec language, Nahuatl (a language very much alive and well today, spoken widely in Mexico and even Los Angeles). Coyote is a frequent character in many Native American stories, often the trickster, rebelling against social convention. Maybe that’s why I like them. Coyote populations are rebounding in the Bay Area after decades of trapping and poisoning. They are at home in our Sonoma grasslands as well as our suburban and urban areas. These animals have a fairly high tolerance of humans and their activities. This tolerance and their rebounding populations are creating conflict with ranchers, who feel their livelihood is threatened by predation of their flocks and herds, and with residents who are ever more frequently losing their pets to the wily creatures. Personally, I get a thrill when I see them from a distance, loping across the hillsides above Tolay Creek. But I wonder: How we are going to learn to live with them again? What are we willing to do to keep the wildness in our lives?
Still doing my “field work,” I thought about the wilder canid cousin, the wolf (Canis lupus). In other parts of California, the wolf is returning home. The Ohlone and Pomo tribes had words for wolves in their native language. The Hoopa and Karok people just to our north used wolf fur in some ceremonial clothing. Archaeologists have found wolf bones in Emeryville, dating to before Europeans arrived. Sadly, the animals were trapped and poisoned out of California. Not a very happy tale. However, I’m thrilled about the wolf packs returning to Northern California, and hope that the ranchers and residents and wolves can find ways to co-exist and we can work together to bring some more wild back into our world.
Perhaps you would like to explore some parks and wilder areas with a more common wolf subspecies — Canis lupus familiaris. That’s right, your pet dog is considered a subspecies of wolf, sharing 98.8 percent of wolf DNA. If you’d like to get your pups out for a hike (on leash, of course), you might try one of the following dog-friendly Regional Parks:
Helen Putnam Park
Foothill Regional Park
Gualala Point Regional Park
Cloverdale River Park
And, beginning on September 7, the Jenner Headlands Preserve!
See ya out there! AR-ROOOOOOOOO!
Dogs of Sonoma Land Trust
Bob Neale is stewardship director for Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.