One of the many pleasures of contributing to the Mountain Democrat is receiving feedback from readers and community members. Sometimes the feedback is related to a recent column, other times it’s just a story idea that is passed along.
In this rather unique case, I was recently contacted by a member of the animal kingdom — a deer, to be exact. He calls himself Jack Buck (no relation to the late legendary broadcaster). Buck wanted to talk about the animal tunnel under Highway 50 that has been receiving so much attention lately. He wanted to discuss the issue from a perspective that hadn’t been directly represented to date: the view of wildlife.
Of course, I had to call in some favors to make this discussion happen. I turned to a software colleague (he prefers the label ‘genius’) who loaned me an alpha program he is developing to communicate with certain animals. Luckily, deer were on the list (along with porpoises and monkeys — the beta will include horses and lemurs).
Enough backstory, here is what Mr. Buck had to say. First, he applauds the Mountain Democrat for reporting on the Caltrans animal tunnel and bringing attention to one of wildlife’s major annual causes: roadkill. For too long, wildlife’s concerns about roadkill have gone unheard in California. We didn’t talk about how humans can’t understand animals (without this revolutionary software that you’ll hear about commercially soon enough), but Buck assured me that anti-roadkill lobbying efforts have taken place and he didn’t want to get into the particulars. He said save it for the next story.
“Even at an intimidating sticker price of $1.6 million, this wildlife tunnel shows that someone is finally listening and taking animal safety seriously,” said Buck. Of course, wildlife tunnels exist in other parts of the country, but Buck, a proud 8-point El Dorado County native, and his furry friends felt cheated that one didn’t exist in his habitat. Raccoons, possums, skunks all vehemently support the effort, according to Buck.
While many in Buck’s deer family won’t use the tunnel yet — apparently they are still nervous about entering it and don’t plan to actually walk through it for another year or so — Buck and some brave friends have used it and love the access it gives them to some hot, new dining spots.
“There are a couple lovely front yards on Forni Road that we didn’t have regular access to before, but now we can graze on those plants to our content. It’s really been a happy hour boon for us.”
Of course, like any project open to the public, the tunnel has attracted its share of troublemakers. On more than one occasion, Buck claims to have crossed a gang of raccoons tucked away in the tunnel that appear to be hallucinating after eating unknown substances.
“You would think they’d steer clear of trouble in there knowing the premises are being videotaped,” said Buck. “Hopefully Caltrans will arrange for a law enforcement presence in here in the future since this is supposed to be all about wildlife safety.”
Buck also explained that he and his fellow wildlife don’t appreciate the caustic comments that have been made in the community and in Letters to the Editor about the wildlife tunnel. Even in times of fiscal duress when one would think budget dollars would be spent on major priorities, funds should be set aside for special causes when they represent doing the right thing.
“We’re all part of nature, so we should want what’s best for everyone,” Buck said. “I’ve lost relatives to roadkill. Humans have passed away in horrific wildlife accidents. Wildlife traffic safety is something that should be a major priority for all of us.”
I relayed to Buck the story of how I hit a deer while driving on Pleasant Valley Road more than 20 years ago. The deer ran off with a piece of my truck’s plastic grill in its side. And wouldn’t you know it, in yet another story about how we live in a small town, Buck said the deer is his nephew Joe and has been running around with a piece of that Toyota grill tattooed in his side for the past two decades. Apparently Joe calls it his “war paint.”
The elder Buck concluded our discussion by reiterating the importance of the animal tunnel. “In all sincerity, the community can debate all it wants, but a deer tunnel is no laughing matter to us deer.” Then Buck turned and galloped up the hill and into the sunset with no cars or concerns in sight.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.