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Learning to Coexist with Coyotes

Published 12/31/06
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 37 Number 4, Winter 2006

API wants to reduce human-coyote conflicts and the number of coyotes killed as a result.

Our Coexisting with Coyotes program helps communities develop ways for individuals, neighborhoods, local agencies, and public officials to work together in developing and implementing long-term coexistence plans. We emphasize the role people play in causing conflicts with coyotes (and other urban wild animals), and how they can reduce those conflicts.

API’s Coexisting with Coyotes program also emphasizes the important ecological role coyotes play in maintaining diversity of species and the health and integrity of a variety of ecosystems. Coyotes can have a top-down effect on ecosystems by regulating the numbers of mesocarnivores, such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, and feral cats through competitive exclusion and direct killing. Research conducted in the fragmented urban habitats of coastal southern California showed that the absence of coyotes allowed smaller predators to proliferate, leading to a sharp reduction in the number and diversity of scrub-nesting bird species.

Studies conducted in more rural areas have found that coyotes have similar indirect effects on songbirds and waterfowl where coyote predation on or competitive exclusion of mesocarnivores leads to increases in bird abundance and diversity. In Texas, researchers found that intense coyote removal led to an increase in mesocarnivores and jackrabbits and a significant decline in the diversity of rodent species. Hence, as the largest carnivore in some ecosystems, coyotes can have a positive overall impact on the local environment, even though such free “ecosystem services” are rarely acknowledged by local, state, or federal wildlife management agencies.

Encounters on the Rise

Encounters between humans and coyotes have become more frequent in our expanding cities and suburbs. The patchwork of green space and open areas provided by residential development offers much “edge” habitat where coyotes can find plentiful sources of food, water, and shelter.

Unfortunately, lethal control is frequently the knee-jerk response to the appearance of coyotes and other predators in both rural and urban areas. Although killing predators allows public officials to argue they are “doing something,” lethal control does not offer a long-term solution to coyote conflicts. Within a short period of time, coyote numbers usually rebound to pre-control levels — the result of emigration, larger litter sizes, and increased pup survival (because of the decreased competition for food and other resources).

Increasingly, scientists and wildlife managers are beginning to recognize the futility of lethal control in reducing human-coyote conflicts. Instead they have begun to advocate for greater public education and the need for human behavioral changes. With shortages in budgets and staff, some wildlife agencies are looking to non-governmental organizations to assist with public outreach and education efforts.

Responding to this need, API developed materials for our Coexisting with Coyotes program that includes a brochure and an in-depth report on coyotes (visit www.coexistingwithwildlife.org for more information). Along with our educational materials, we have worked with several communities across North America to develop tailored outreach programs that provide models of coexistence for other communities to follow.

Case Example

Over the past 10 years, API has worked proactively to foster educated coexistence between people and coyotes (and other predators) in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, California. Trapping and poisoning programs killed off most of the coyotes in Marin County approximately 50 years ago. Over the past 20 years, coyotes have steadily recolonized the county, first in west Marin, largely agricultural, and more recently into southern Marin, more developed. With an abundance of protected open space and agricultural lands, Marin County is an ideal place for wildlife.

Just as many other agricultural counties in California and other western states had done, Marin County contracted with the USDA Wildlife Services (WS) program and paid a federal trapper to assist ranchers with predator conflicts, largely through lethal predator removal. In 2000, public controversy arose over the use of taxpayer funds to subsidize the WS program.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors then voted to replace the federal program with a locally-run non-lethal predator management plan, put forth by API and a coalition of local organizations, and later more fully developed by the Marin County Agricultural Commissioner’s office. Through this program, qualified ranchers are able to receive financial assistance to implement non-lethal animal husbandry methods including guard dogs, llamas, improved fencing, and lambing sheds.

A cost-share indemnification program was later added to the program to compensate qualified ranchers for verified livestock losses resulting from predation. The program has garnered national attention, and initial data from the County Agricultural Commissioner’s office indicate it has been effective at helping to reduce livestock losses for some ranchers.

In suburban southern Marin, sightings of coyotes have increased as they have successfully recolonized the area. To better understand where conflicts were occurring and to facilitate communication between local and state agencies responsible for responding to wildlife conflicts, API and the Marin Humane Society convened a task force to develop a plan that would increase public outreach and centralize the County’s response to coyote conflicts. Task force members include local law enforcement police departments, open space districts, county parks departments, the county wildlife rehabilitation center and humane society, and API.

Public outreach efforts focus on identified conflict “hot spots” and include distribution of API’s Coexisting with Coyotes brochures, articles in community newsletters and newspapers, public forums, coyote encounter observation reports, and site visits. Such collaboration ensures that a consistent and persistent message is put forth to the community. API’s “Be Coyote Aware” signs have been posted on all major trail heads in hot spot areas and feature the logos of all task force members, highlighting the broad coalition of organizations and agencies involved in this effort.

Wildlife feeding was identified as a problem in parts of the county, and in 2004, a county ordinance prohibited the practice. According to the Marin Humane Society, the primary enforcer of the ordinance, the new law has been very effective, particularly as an educational tool for animal service officers who can warn people that they may be cited if they do not cease intentional wildlife feeding. The wildlife feeding law is also highlighted on API’s “Be Coyote Aware” signs.

As a community known for its environmental awareness and strong support of agriculture, Marin County has faced many challenges in addressing coyote conflicts with sometimes polarized viewpoints about how conflicts should be addressed. But through collaboration, dialogue, and community outreach, the county has provided a model for other communities facing similar challenges. The county’s vision is to promote coexistence between people and wildlife by emphasizing practical, humane solutions to conflicts.

Here to Stay

That coyotes have withstood and even thrived under intense persecution over the last century is a testament to their adaptability, resilience, and intelligence. At least 19 subspecies of coyote now roam throughout North America, from California to Newfoundland and from Alaska to Panama. Whether we like it or not, the coyote has become an urban denizen, and we must learn to coexist if for no other reason than that the coyote has proven time and time again she will persist.

As the human populace becomes more urbanized, budget-strapped wildlife management agencies face increased challenges in addressing urban wildlife conflicts. Collaborative strategies may be necessary to address this shortfall, particularly when urban wildlife programs are chronically underfunded. As the Marin example demonstrates, effective wildlife coexistence programs require active participation on the part of individuals, community leaders, and local and state agencies — but they are possible and can be successful.

Ultimately, the choice to coexist with coyotes and other wild animals in urbanized landscapes is up to us. The question is not so much whether we can, as whether we want to, and if so, how we will go about making this happen. API is firmly committed to facilitating innovative community-based approaches to human-coyote conflicts, and we believe that if people and communities take responsibility to mitigate such conflicts, we can shape a future in which humane, long-lasting solutions become a reality.

You can help! Your tax-deductible donation to API helps support important programs such as Coexisting with Coyotes. You can donate by going to our donation page, or by calling API at 1-800-348-7387.

For more information go to www.coexistingwithwildlife.org.

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