Long Story Short: Wild kingdom

12/4/17



illustration by JP Thimot

 

A sprawling story

In the late 1950s, when I was five, my family moved from Buffalo’s East Side to Emerson Drive in Eggertsville. It was a lower-middle class, postwar suburban neighborhood, made up of small cinderblock houses with modest yards.

 

Emerson was where Bailey Avenue ended in those days. Beyond our street was Homecrest Drive, and then … nothing. Nothing but uncultivated meadows that we called “the fields;” these spread farther north than I ever cared to venture. Nothing west either, until Niagara Falls Boulevard.

 

These fields were home to rodents, snakes, birds, deer, just to mention the animals I personally encountered. These were my fields, mine and my friends. It’s where we played, hiked, camped, and picked wild berries. I got my Boy Scout fire-starting and cooking badges in the fields.  We made “forts,” and had adventures. I read my first Playboy there.

 

Then they built Maple Road, and with it came traffic that cut off our neighborhood from the endless horizon. The Boulevard Mall came soon after, and more traffic, and then more streets and houses, and gradually our fields shrunk until they were gone. I didn’t know it then, but I was witnessing suburban sprawl.

 

Our neighborhood lost the undeveloped land we had enjoyed without ever knowing who owned it. And numerous species of animals lost their habitat. People somewhere north of Maple were now living on the border between nature and civilization, until the outskirts moved even further out. With each new development, families populated streets that only recently had been grasslands, woods, or wetlands. And they were pleased that untouched wilderness was just steps away, until it wasn’t.

 

What’s this all about anyway?

Selfish hypocrites. That’s what Richard and Lynn Jacobs and Richard's brother, Eric calls the people who are trying to prevent them from selling fifty-nine acres of East Amherst land that has been in their family for over one-hundred years. The plan is for it to become a single-family subdivision. The Jacobs clan recently mailed a harshly-worded letter to 170 of their neighbors, many of whom oppose the development. In it they lay out the case for hypocrisy: “… Where your house and yard sits was also open green space not so long ago,” the letter states, “It was perfectly fine when the development benefited you, and your house was built, but is off limits for us?” The Jacobs go on to point out that the family maintains the land and pays the annual taxes, while the neighbors treat it like a private park and dumping ground. In fact, that’s part of the reason they have decided to sell.

 

The neighbors who object to the development list a variety of causes for concern: increased traffic, safety, potential flooding, and then, as if to confirm the Jacobs’ claim of hypocrisy, the “project’s effects on wetlands…and the wildlife that now calls the Jacobs property home.” They created, not one, but two Facebook pages to organize opposition to the development, and dotted the streets with yellow protest signs. The Jacobs believe that the people objecting “simply want to keep the land as an extension of their backyards.”

 

The takeaway:

The people complaining about the proposed development chose to live in a neighborhood that only a short time ago was another neighborhood’s nearby natural habitat. Now they object that natural habitat near them is slated to become the next casualty of the endless progression of suburban sprawl. Paul Boser, one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed development, is quoted in the Buffalo News as saying, “I’m of the view that Amherst is overdeveloped.” Really? I’d say that ship sailed a long time ago. Maybe when they built Maple Road. The question the Jacobs are asking is simple: why grow a conscience now?

 

 

It just gets better: AK360

Billionaire bond king, art collector, former rock drummer, and Buffalo native, Jeffrey Gundlach, has pledged another $10 million dollars for the Albright-Knox AK360 building expansion. And he’s buying a house in town to be closer to the action. It was Gundlach who kick-started the original fundraising effort, with a donation of $42.5 million dollars. Now the founder and chief executive of DoubleLine Capital wants this new donation to act as a stimulus to entice Buffalo expats and other out-of-town philanthropists to chip in.

 

The details:

In honor of Gundlach’s initial donation, the name of the museum will be changed after the renovation to the Buffalo Albright-Knox Gundlach art Museum, or Buffalo AKG Art Museum. In interviews with WIBV-TV and the Buffalo News, Gundlach indicated that he will be more involved in this next phase of fundraising. And because he will be spending more time in Buffalo, he purchased a home near the museum, which he will renovate and decorate with the work of contemporary Buffalo artists.

 

A concept design for the museum expansion was revealed last June, which placed the addition between the two existing buildings. This met with opposition from preservationists, and, since then, the museum has been guarded about its plans. It has announced that they are now also considering an option to place the addition on the north and northwest side of the campus.

 

The original projected cost of the renovation and addition was $80 million dollars. Eventually that was raised to the current $155 million dollars, almost twice the original estimate. This includes a $30 million-dollar operating endowment. Museum director Janne Sirén called this latest fundraising phase, “the final second round, of the capital campaign." That’s an odd way to put it, because how can anyone really know the final cost if the design isn’t finalized? The museum’s announced intent is to start work on the addition in April of 2019, just one construction season away. 

 

The takeaway: 

Most of the art community is thrilled to see the Albright-Knox spend as much as they are able to raise on what will certainly be a world-class attraction. Gundlach is something of a saint to Buffalo museum fans, the Terry Pegula of art—or maybe the white knight of cultural expansion; pick your metaphor. In any case, everyone is waiting with bated breath for the final plan, and that first ceremonial shovel.

 

 

The turkey and the coyote

Why can’t animals learn that once we appropriate their land for the sake of civilization, they are not expected to return? Two stories this week involve creatures that just don’t know their place in this world. One story ended happily, with no foul for the fowl, but there’s a canine still wreaking havoc among the dead.

 

The details:

A coyote has been hanging out in Forest Lawn Cemetery. It killed a litter of fawns, and chased a couple human visitors, who definitely were not looking to become residents. So, Forest Lawn turned to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which determined that “the coyote is exhibiting aggressive behavior and likely habituated to humans.” Coyotes are naturally fearful of people, but when they lose that fear, it can be dangerous, says the DEC, so they issued a permit to kill the varmint.

 

Not so fast says the SPCA, which offered to intercede on behalf of the animal. Killing one coyote will not solve the problem it says, and may exacerbate it over time. Forest Lawn is not just a cemetery; it’s a wildlife habitat, a complete ecosystem striving for equilibrium. While humans see fawns as lovable Bambis, coyotes see them as dinner. You know, “the circle of life.” In the wild, deer have predators. And they are not the only animals potentially on the coyote menu; there are oodles of delicious feral cats running around Forest Lawn. Plus, humans might be leaving food for their preferred animals, which also attracts the coyotes.

 

This is unlikely to be the only coyote among in the cemetery, says the SPCA; they tend to come in mated pairs, and may also have cubs. Coyotes are more common in cities than most people realize. So, the SPCA is helping Forest Lawn come up with a better strategy for control. They will try to determine how the critters are entering the cemetery, what they are eating, and go from there.

 

What a turkey

Another local story about wildlife infringing on human civilization (or the other way around), involves a male eastern wild turkey with a penchant for stopping traffic. As humans often do when an animal enters their lives, the people of the turkey’s East Amherst neighborhood named him. Predictably he is called Tom, but he’s more legendarily known as the Paradise-Klein Turkey, named after the streets where he is known to hang out. And of course, he has a Facebook page. Unlike the recent coyote arrival, this avian outlaw has been around for years, acquiring something of a folk-legend status, as he brazenly struts around the street, bringing cars to a halt with impunity. He pecks tires, approaches car windows, and generally wreaks havoc. Like the coyote, Tom is apparently habituated to humans, letting them get within a couple feet before roguishly scurrying away.   

 

This particular species of turkey is declining in New York State, says the DEC, thanks to development and resulting loss of habitat, which makes it more vulnerable to predators, including coyotes. Ironically, turkeys like Tom are categorized by the DEC as nuisance birds, and not counted as part of the wild population. According to the Washington Post, they thrive in suburban areas for two reasons; they are not hunted, and people feed them. 

 

So, after years of life on the street as a beloved public nuisance, Amherst police obtained a permit from the DEC to net and relocate the bird. Tom is now retired from his job as celebrity traffic hazard, and living comfortably in Nora’s Ark rescue and wildlife rehabilitation center in East Concord.

 

The takeaway:

If you don’t want turkeys around, don’t feed them, says the DEC; the same goes for coyotes. While turkeys can be surprisingly aggressive, most people fear coyotes more. So, until the threat is eliminated from Forest Lawn, here’s your DEC-approved defense plan should you find yourself face to face with one: be “aggressive.” Make loud noises, wave your arms, and throw sticks or stones. And most importantly, make sure you have a friend record the incident for Facebook.

 

 

Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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