By Ron Furlong
Take a look at the photo on this page and then answer this question: Is it just me or did the beaver that gnawed through that plum tree cross a certain line? Would you agree that it was a little uncalled for?
Wildlife. We welcome it on the golf course. In fact, we encourage it, providing things like birdhouses, deer licks and lots of different cozy habitats for all sorts of creatures. We call ourselves environmental stewards and brag to others about the vast variety of wildlife on our golf course: deer, fox, coyote, rabbits, eagles, hawks, owls, heron, turtles, frogs and snakes. We snap pictures and post them in the clubhouse. We add new sightings to our Audubon International wildlife list.
But what happens when some not-so-likeable neighbors move into the community you've created? The community in which you've welcomed all with open arms? Just like your new human neighbor with his barking dogs and loud parties late into the night, some animals may not be quite so welcome to your little natural environmental habitat either.
For instance, what about beavers and their ability to fell trees? How about geese and their ability to poop like nobody's business? Crows stealing bags of chips from golfers' unattended carts? Not cool, crows. Not cool. Even hornets stinging folks who are innocently looking for errant shots under trees. And don't get me started on the damage a tunneling mole can do in a few short hours.
For all the great photo opps and feel-good moments you get from this vast array of wildlife on the golf course, you may get just as many negative and stressful moments. Dealing with goose poop can be a huge problem for golf courses, especially when the little buggers waddle onto greens in the early morning hours.
And I don't know how many times each summer I get calls from the pro shop informing me of a golfer who is irate because a wasp stung them. Usually I find out later that the golfer was pretty deep in a thicket well off the beaten path. But they still are demanding that the nest be destroyed and every last wasp murdered. And, of course, they want to know how we possibly couldn't have known about the nest, even though it was 15 feet deep in a thicket as dense as a briar patch?
Yes, wildlife can be a headache for any golf course superintendent. Take our beaver, for example. A cute, fuzzy little guy. People find it so environmentally sweet in an "aw, you have a beaver" kind of way. Although he doesn't show his face very often during the day (beavers being mostly nocturnal), when he does the cameras are popping like it's the first pitch on opening day at a new ballpark.
But let's talk about that cute little beaver for a moment. In the last couple of years he (or a beaver that looks just like him) has taken down five willows and now three plums that circle that particular pond. We planted the eight trees about 10 years ago. That plum, about 20 feet high and healthy as could be, was the last of the eight still standing. Now that he has removed all of the trees around the pond, I'm not sure if he'll move on to a more fruitful site, or start working his way inland a bit and continuing his destruction of our trees.
One could argue, I suppose, that the little fellow has as much right to the trees as we humans do. Just because humans planted them, does that make them people only trees going on into the future? The same with the geese. Who's to say they can't waddle wherever their little feet take them, even if that means up and onto a green or two? And the wasps, if you think about it, have as much right to the thicket as the golfer, as does the burrowing mole to the soil he mounds.
I'm not sure there is any clear-cut lesson to be learned here either way, but maybe we can at least come to this one conclusion: With a diverse environment like a golf course, you can be sure that for all the positive wildlife you will encounter, there's sure to be a few bad apples in the bunch.
But isn't that always the way it is?
Furlong, a monthly columnist for Superintendent magazine, is the golf course superintendent at Avalon Golf Club in Burlington, Wash. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.