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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Publisher’s Notebook

• Snakes in the Grass •

BY ANNE SOBLE

It’s funny the way a theme can dominate at a moment in time. As The News goes to press with this week’s issue, it seems as if there are rattlesnakes lurking in every corner. Not literally, of course, but in the sense that this is peak rattler season and Malibuites are being reminded to give these important members of the local ecosystem the respect and the wide berth they deserve.
Rattler presence nearly everywhere in Malibu affirms that nature is persistent and these diligent monitors of the rodent population will find a way to manage to coexist with other species, including humans. For example, during the last week, we have received three reports that the signage urging visitors to be on the alert for rattlesnakes in Legacy Park is well founded.
Actually, since the park grounds are not a high public use area, the presence of the snakes is an affirmation of the health of the mini-ecosystem that was created at the site. It may not offer the active recreational options sought by a segment of the current community demographics, but it is a semblance of manmade wilderness surrounded by urban/suburban development.
Making the presence of rattlesnakes in the center of Malibu’s commercial and civic area a topic of discussion should not lead to a call for the eradication of the snakes. That would only allow the local rodent ranks to skyrocket. But visitors to the park, especially those with dogs whose curiosity may prompt them to poke around the grass, should take the warning signs seriously.
Rattlers are not the only wild things that have found Legacy Park’s grounds to their liking. Other animals that also prefer to be less visible are in the area. A reader reported spotting a coyote in Legacy Park two weeks ago that was more than likely just passing through. The diversity of smaller animals that might consider Legacy Park for a through route, or setting up house, is directly related to the relative lack of human use of the park.
I decided to visit Legacy Park recently and look for signs of the extent of the wilderness takeover. My goal wasn’t a hike per se but a succession of loosely structured sit-and-stops, as I looked for areas adjacent to where one might see signs of rodent life, the makings of a well-stocked larder for rattlers and other wildlife.
I brought portable seating that allowed me to move from stop to stop, then sit nearby quietly for 15 minutes or so, and where appropriate, use my bamboo hiking staff to stir up the nearby topsoil in order to check underneath the foliage of ground-hugging plants.
There were ample indications that snakes—whether rattlers, eco-buddy gopher snakes, or numerous other things that slither—would find the Legacy Park menu options to their liking. Not only would the snake population be healthy, but they also would be less likely to act in ways that increase the potential for human encounters.
Legacy Park may not be to everyone’s liking, but it provides a counterbalance to the changing face of mid-Malibu. If one gets lucky and spots one of nature’s wild critters, an adrenalin rush is likely. Humans so outnumber wildlife now that every sighting is a special event.

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