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Winter 2013-14 - Act•ionLine

by Michael Harris, Wildlife Law Program Director | Winter 2013-14

Co-Existing With Coyotes

FRIENDS OF ANIMALS LAUNCHES A NEW PROGRAM TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF URBAN COYOTES

Coyotes have always been a revered symbol of the American West.  In Native American mythology, the coyote is often the hero who creates, teaches and helps humans; in other stories, the coyote exposes the perils of human greed, recklessness, and arrogance; in still others, the coyote is the comic trickster.  No wonder pioneers coming from the East came to associate the soulful call of the coyote late in the dark night with their apprehensive enthusiasm for the vast wildness of the West. 

Today, however, the coyote often lives its life persecuted by humans as a pest.  As with so many other species, this view of the coyote was first fostered by ranchers and farmers, who place higher value on the enslavement of animals then on the preservation of the wild.  Yes, coyotes can kill sheep and young cattle.  But they also play a vital role in the ecosystem.  By exerting a top-down regulation of other species, coyotes help sustain the balance in the food web below and around them. 

The Emergence of the Urban Coyote

Part of the coyote's knack for survival is its ability to adapt.  Coyotes have taken advantage of human presence to expand their ranges into urban and suburban communities.  The very open spaces that make our communities so livable also provide coyotes habitat and shelter, while the near-by neighborhoods provide opportunities for food and water.  And coyotes are no longer just a Western species.  Today, they can be found throughout the U.S., from New England to the suburbs of Los Angeles.

As a result, opportunities for coyote-human encounters abound.  Such encounters can be of particular concern when coyotes come to seek food, shelter and water in residential neighborhoods.  In these instances, coyotes are often subject to retaliatory responses from humans.  Humans have experimented extensively with trapping, relocating and sometimes lethal-control methods to “manage” coyotes.  Federal and state laws have been passed that authorize, and often even encourage, the killing of coyotes that are found near humans.  However, time has shown that such methods have failed to achieve effective, lasting results. In order to improve the nature of these interactions — to benefit both humans and coyotes — there is a need for a fundamental modification of both the public and government’s attitudes toward these animals.

Communities Seek Resolution

In recent years, a growing number of communities, particularly in the Western United States, are seeking a plan to address, and improve, human-coyote encounters.  The most promising solution is to improve habitat — it seems clear that coyotes will generally avoid humans, sheep and cattle where they otherwise have shelter, water and sufficient natural prey available to them.  Thus, providing adequate sized open space that is managed to promote a healthy ecosystem, as well as legal protection for natural prey and other wildlife, will certainly reduce unwanted encounters between humans and coyotes.

But even where open space has already been limited by human encroachment, non-lethal, non-invasive methods are a clear alternative to the lethal control practices currently in use.  There are a number of non-lethal control methods that can effectively manage conflicts between humans and coyotes.  These methods start with educating ourselves about the basics, like clearing weeds and shrubs around homes to limit shelter opportunities, removing artificial water sources (pools and fish ponds), and feeding pets indoors when possible.

Whether one lives in a rural, suburban or urban environment there are practices that can be employed to eliminate and reduce human concern regarding encounters with coyotes.  Human inattention plays an important role in many predation incidents, and losses could be prevented by greater vigilance.  Being aware of one’s environment, and the wildlife in it, is fundamental to implementing effective non-lethal, non-invasive coyote management practices. 

FoA’s Living With Coyotes Program

Friends of Animals has produced a program to support communities that seek to implement non-lethal, non-invasive practices to proactively address human-coyote encounters.  The program seeks to help educate local governments and communities about methods people can use to effectively reduce, and eventually eliminate, perceived conflicts with coyotes. 

The highlight of the program is a set of free tools to help a community adopt a people-, coyote- and environment-friendly plan.  Our new Living With Coyotes brochure, for example, outlines some of the basics of an integrated approach to co-existing with coyotes.  Friends of Animals will also work with any community to plan for a public coyote forum, to develop a holistic coyote engagement plan, and/or to pass a coyote engagement resolution.  The only request we ask of the community in return is the willingness to fully consider a plan that restricts public funding of trapping and relocation, or lethal control — something other communities in the United States have already done.  Please visit our program website at friendsofanimals.org/coyotes.

Michael Harris, Wildlife Law Program Director

Act•ionLine Winter 2013-14

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