Three years ago my wife found an opossum in one of our sheds with a plastic six-pack ring around its neck. I immobilized the possum with a towel and we cut off the ring. No harm, no foul -- just a reminder of what such plastics can do.
Until recently I considered that an isolated event. But last week on a website hosted by the National Audubon Society (www.pabirds.org), a member wrote that he had found a large black snake entangled in a clump of "wildlife netting" used to protect a berry crop from birds. He wondered if others had experienced this problem.
Within a few hours, a half dozen replies expressed similar concerns. One wrote of finding a mockingbird trapped in a garden completely covered in netting. He managed to free the bird. Another reported finding a long dead chipmunk in an unused tangle of netting.
Another post really got my attention. It mentioned finding a flicker, catbirds, robins, a Baltimore oriole and even a red-tailed hawk in plastic netting. The poster lamented the widespread use of plastic netting and fencing by farmers, landscapers and gardeners. The low cost of such netting has made it a widespread hazard for wildlife.
Another common source of plastic fencing is found along natural gas pipelines that crisscross the countryside. Look for this bright orange plastic fencing wherever a pipeline crosses a road.
A similar threat is posed by landscaping mats formed by straw sandwiched between two layers of netting. Snakes, turtles, chipmunks, and other small rodents are particularly vulnerable to these mats. And after the mat does its job and grass grows up through it, the netting remains hazardous for years.
These products serve a valuable purpose, especially when used to protect gardens and fruit crops. But there are alternatives. The simple solution is to stop using plastic fencing and netting. So spread the word. Explain to friends and neighbors the danger plastic fencing and netting poses to wildlife. Store it responsibly when the job is done. And ask pipeline workers to remove the plastic fencing when the right-of-way is completed.
If there's a landscaping job in your future, ask about using mats made from biodegradable jute. It is clearly a better choice for wildlife.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Rd., Cameron, WV 26033.