Sunday, May 11, 2008

Skunks Flunk Arlington

An odd question makes the front page of today's Washington Post. Are there any skunks left in Arlington?
"We're 40 percent paved over, so there's not much nature left," he said, shrugging. With a growing population of 200,000, the 26-square-mile county might be reaching a "critical mass" of dense urban landscape, [Arlington County naturalist Greg Zell] said, where even the hardiest wild survivors, such as skunks, can no longer make it.

[Earl] Hodnett, a wildlife biologist in Fairfax County, which has a healthy skunk population, says he has a hard time believing the animals have disappeared from Arlington. "It would really raise questions about our own quality of life," he said. "If a skunk can't make it here, how are we doing?" [...]

Zell has mapped all the green spaces in the county, the largest of which is Arlington National Cemetery. What shows up looks like the disjointed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. "Nothing is connected," he said. "The natural open space that's left is all isolated. Like little islands." Maybe that's why there might be no more skunks, he said. The islands are small. And it's dangerous to move between them.
To connect the pieces of the puzzle, the National Wildlife Federation has created the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, helping people make their properties friendlier to birds and animals. Thanks to the efforts of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, Arlington was one of the first places in the country to be certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat.

But while Arlington is home to deer, raccoons, foxes, snakes, hawks and other critters, apparently skunks haven't been able to put down roots here.

How concerned should Arlingtonians be? It's never a good thing when our community is no longer hospitable to a native resident. But is there something Arlington should be doing differently? We already protect open spaces and have a terrific parks system. Issues like lowering our carbon footprint, protecting streams and improving public transportation are still the big environmental priorities.
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