Q&A: Keely Roen

Wildlife are right at home in urban areas, says DuBois professor Keely Roen.

conceptual illustration of coyotes amid urban street signs and a dumpster by Stuart Bradford

Q: During the pandemic, we read a lot about wild animals—coyotes and such—in cities. Why this increase?

ROEN: It’s true that if you have less traffic, you might see some more wildlife. But I don’t think it was this great overhaul that people were making it out to be. Wildlife in urban areas has more to do with habitats being modified by humans, and that attracts certain species that can adapt easily. With expansion and development, we almost always see invasive species in urban and suburban areas. When we put in a road or a mall, whatever it might be, we’re unwittingly creating a habitat that’s so disturbed it’s rife for species that don’t have any predators, diseases, or any of those things that they need to compete with, to monopolize.


Q: Is food a big driver?

ROEN: We often think of food first, and that’s definitely the case with coyotes, for example, because they’re incredibly adaptive in terms of what they eat. They will eat small mammals, berries, dog food, cat food, garbage, corn byproducts—even plastics and wrappers. But we’re also providing them cover and space. Even something as simple as a culvert could be a denning area. They’ll often use decks, they’ll live underneath houses.


Q: Do wild animals in urban and suburban areas pose a threat to humans?

ROEN: The truth is that even in Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago, where there are large urban coyote populations that are becoming more used to being around humans, most people will never see one. We drive in cars every day—that’s monumentally more dangerous. I was thrilled the first time I saw a coyote in downtown DuBois, Pa., but I also understand that people are scared and don’t want negative experiences.


Q: How can we manage potential human-wildlife interactions?

ROEN: There are small steps—proper sanitation, properly fitting garbage lids, feeding your pets indoors—that can reduce any negative conflict. I encourage people to make their property more wildlife-friendly by providing water, natural food sources, and nesting opportunities for animals from butterflies and songbirds to raptors and bats. These can be done even in urban landscapes.


Q: Some cities—Los Angeles, for example—provide green spaces for wildlife. How effective are these?

ROEN: Green spaces, corridors, and other intentional wildlife habitats are effective ways of providing space and resources for wildlife. They can also mitigate some of the significant habitat losses and modifications humans have created. But green spaces aren’t going to magically suck wildlife out of houses, gardens, and playgrounds. If there is space and food, animals comfortable with humans will still exist in the most urban environments.