A columnist in the Denver Post today talks with some common-sense Greenwood Village residents circulating petitions to stop the killing of coyotes in their city.
After a spike in dog/human/coyote incidents, the city hired sharpshooters to kill “aggressive” coyotes with high-powered rifles within the city’s park system.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has killed several coyotes in the city of Broomfield in response to a couple of well-publicized dog/human/coyote interactions in that city earlier this year. The DOW, which knows that killing the animals doesn’t address the problem – its spokesperson recently said that if the entire United States were paved with asphalt, we would still be living with coyotes — is instead overreacting to mostly misguided public fears that somehow “more aggressive” coyotes have become a threat to our well-being and our way of life.
These knee-jerk, appease-the-populace reactions will almost certainly guarantee that the cities will continue to experience dog/human/coyote interactions. Greenwood Village says its main goal is to educate, and to its credit has generally good advice about coyotes on its website.
But instead of vigorously enforcing current leash laws (which is the underlying reason for almost every one of these so-called “attacks”), the city has decided to blame the wild animals. It’s so much easier than actually dealing with the problem.
I think most people who have been around animals understand that most animal-behavior problems are really human-behavior problems. Even people who experience the harshest of wild-animal interactions – being mauled by a grizzly – generally understand their own culpability in an “attack.”
The word “attack” has all sorts of negative connotations. This YouTube video, for instance, is labeled as an “attack” by a polar bear. My immediate reaction to the video is that there was no attack, except perhaps that the woman could be seen as attacking the bears by jumping into their enclosure. But had the bear chosen to “attack,” the woman would certainly not be alive to tell her story. The bear, though it appears to bite her on the ass, seems more curious about the intruder than anything else.
Despite the biblical injunction about dominion over animals, humans have never been good stewards of wildlife; indeed we seem incapable of “managing” wild animals beyond exterminating them when they become nuisances.
Think of the consequences of the United States’ decision, for instance, to eliminate the top predators, wolves and grizzly bears from the entire Western ecosystem to accommodate ranchers with cattle and sheep, The consequences of that decision still reverberate across the Western landscape, with no end in sight.
One of the effects is that about half a million coyotes, along with hundreds of thousands of other animals, under the guise of “wildlife management,” are killed every year under the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division. Despite the annual slaughter, which in 2008 was almost five MILLION animals, coyote numbers are increasing around the country, even in places that have never seen coyotes before. (For more on coyote behavior, here’s an excellent report from Marc Bekoff in Canid News.
In Colorado, the DOW and Greenwood Village council members over-reacted mostly to appease the fears of a small percentage of citizens. And instead of concentrating on human behavior (“my dog is under control, even without the leash,” “I left my leash at home,” “My dog wouldn’t hurt a fly,” “Why aren’t you out catching real criminals?”), we seem to easily defer to expecting the animals to change theirs. And if the animals, in this case coyotes, don’t comply: Bang, you’re dead.
There’s one constant in the spike in dog/human/coyote interactions in the Denver area: Off-leash dogs were involved and often initiated contact with the coyotes. The inference is, of course, that coyotes, because they’re wild, “attack” dogs, which are “tame.”
If you’ve been around animals, you know that’s not a given. The coyotes might have attacked the dogs, but it’s equally probable that the dogs, off-leash and curious as all dogs are, approached the coyotes, who, perceiving them as attackers, responded accordingly. We won’t know exactly what happened – eyewitness accounts are wildly inconclusive — but what if the dogs were the aggressors and the coyotes just defending themselves or their territory? Would we shoot the dogs?
But it’s easy to make some sort of distinction between wild animals and pets, even if domestic animals are just wild animals bred to be tame. (Consider, for instance, that if your housecat weighed 105 pounds, she might consider you a snack instead of a food provider and a lap to sit in.)
Our general fears in this regard are completely out of balance with reality. Domestic dogs are inherently more dangerous to humans than coyotes ever will be. Domestic dogs actually do kill people — and many dogs that kill were trained to do so by humans.
Only one or two human deaths in history have ever been attributed to a coyote. More than FOUR MILLION Americans are treated for domestic dog bites EACH YEAR, and 10-15 people annually are fatally attacked by domestic dogs.
But hey, it’s easier to blame the coyotes than change our behavior, right?
June 17, 2009 No Comments
I hadn’t really thought much about coyotes until a few years ago while attending a conference in Yellowstone on predators. Three different biologists, during their presentations, praised coyote as their favorite predator.
Since this was coming from people who also studied charismatic megafauna like wolves and grizzly bears, I began to learn more about coyote. Today, though I am still partial to bears and wolves, I have to agree that perhaps the most interesting predator is coyote.
I bring this up after reading of incidents in Denver of humans being “attacked” and bitten by coyotes within city limits. A woman in southeast Denver reported being attacked by three coyotes while walking her dog, and a man in Broomfield was bitten while walking his dog, as was another Broomfield woman in January.
Much as I appreciate canis latrans, I don’t like to hear about humans having contact with, let alone being bitten by wild animals. But given the information we have, I take issue with these incidents being characterized as attacks or somehow as proof that coyotes are becoming more aggressive toward humans.
Thanks to a diverse diet and plenty of food in urban areas, coyote is certainly comfortable in the city landscape. Difficult as it is to figure out what actually happened from the published accounts, two things come to mind in both Broomfield incidents. First, each took place near dawn or dusk in parks, times when coyote is known to be active, and in each case, off-leash dogs chased after the coyotes, the humans intervened and were bitten.
Coyotes can be aggressive around food, and it is certainly possible that the coyotes attacked the humans, but it is also just as easy to suggest that the coyotes were playing with or perhaps protecting themselves against attacks from the canines. Had the dogs been on-leash, as per Broomfield law, the incidents probably wouldn’t have happened.
Coyotes are among the most adaptive animals in evolution. Coyote biologist Robert Crabtree calls them “the ultimate icon of human defiance.” They are present in every state except Hawaii and can adapt to life in a New York City alleyway as easily as a Colorado arroyo. As a Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesperson said recently, if you completely covered the United States with concrete, coyotes would still live among us.
Judging from some of the comments posted to news stories about these events, you might believe that killing coyotes is actually a viable solution.
History and studies of coyote behavior and reproduction tell us otherwise. Beginning with the repeating rifle and continuing with poison and traps, we have been trying to exterminate coyote, which evolved in North America alongside the long-extinct dire wolf, since we arrived on these shores. We came damned close to annihilating the grizzly bear and the gray wolf in the lower 48, but our attempts to exterminate coyotes have been met with nothing but frustration and more and more coyotes. The government’s Wildlife Services program kills almost half a million coyotes a year in the guise of ranch-animal protection, with no negligible effect on the population. I can find no firm statistics, but there are almost certainly more coyotes in the United States today than there were two hundred and fifty years ago.
That’s one of the main reasons I admire coyote. How can you hate a species that has completely outsmarted humans and live in defiance of us? And we humans don’t seem to be getting it yet. We leave them food in unsecured garbage bins, compost bins and pet bowls.
And instead of a couple of unfortunate incidents that better human decisions might have avoided, there are people in Denver somehow convinced that coyotes are out there behind the back fence plotting to snatch their pets and terrorize their lives. In an extreme and unfortunate reaction, Greenwood Village is foolishly going to waste precious city funds to hire sharpshooters to kill coyotes within city limits and is petitioning the state to allow leg-traps. God only knows what they will catch in those things, and come next January, there will more coyotes there.
That’s old-fashioned thinking, and it is doomed to failure. Why not teach people, like the Division of Wildlife does, about coyote behavior? Why not secure your garbage and pet foods? Why not leash your dogs in areas where coyotes are known to be? Or let your neighbors know when coyotes have been spotted in your neighborhood? We are not going to kill off coyotes or change their behavior, and to live with them, we will have to change our own — or live in Hawaii.
March 1, 2009 1 Comment
The Denver Post reports that Greenwood Village’s city council Friday approved “limited” shooting of coyotes in public areas of the city, including parks, greenbelts and watersheds.
The city will pay a private contractor about $200 a day to kill coyotes – the story doesn’t say how many are slated for “elimination” — and it is also asking the Tri-County Health Department for permits to allow the setting of leg traps for coyotes. (Perhaps there are new leg traps that differentiate coyotes from German Shepherds or red foxes or house cats, but I doubt it.)
This is pathetic. What are the council members thinking? Sharpshooters on open space? Leg traps in a municipality in a state that overwhelmingly voted in 1996 to ban such cruel devices? Greenwood Village’s wildlife management plan forsakes all known science about coyotes to hold a media show – perhaps the contractor holding up dead coyotes by their legs like they used to in the Old West? – and demonstrate its commitment to public safety.
“The problem is the population is out of control, and it has created a public-safety issue for our community,” the Post quotes City Manager Jim Sanderson. “We are not trying to eliminate all coyotes.”
Sorry, Mr. Sanderson, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m guessing that somewhere in your packet of materials about “coyotes being more aggressive,” you missed the dirty secret about killing coyotes to “control” them. “Coyotes are ‘compensatory breeders,’ that’s what the research says,” the Post quotes Jennifer Churchill, a Colorado Division of Wildlife spokeswoman. “When the population gets knocked back they will indeed create more coyotes.”
What this means is that coyotes, when faced with a threat to their population, will compensate for their loss, in this case by producing more pups and litters. The federal government knows this, yet it financially supports Wildlife Services, a euphemistic name for an agency that uses tax dollars to kill hundreds of thousands of animals — coyotes, foxes, birds, you name it — in the guise of protecting “agriculture, health, property and health and safety,” continues its wasteful, destructive ways, shooting thousands of coyotes from airplanes. In the last twenty years nine shooters and pilots have died and 34 others injured doing this.
All this “management,” and yet coyotes are flourishing. This is dirty secret number two about coyotes. Fact is, humans have been trying to eradicate coyotes since Europeans first settled in the New World. Our species came close to eliminating wolves and grizzly bears from the lower 48 (along with collateral animals like lynx) by using guns, traps and finally poison. But after several centuries, the coyotes are clearly winning
That’s the other dirty secret about coyote: As an adaptable species, it is infinitely superior to humans. Ever wonder why the coyote in literature is known as the Trickster? Coyotes find plenty to eat and enough good habitat to live and breed alongside us, even because of us. They are an active, integral part of our eco-systems.
There are plenty of proactive ways to deal with coyotes. Teach citizens to secure trash and control companion animals, to chase off coyotes and other wildlife off when you see them, to not feed wild animals) But instead of teaching human responsibility, Greenwood Village, under the guise of protecting the children, embarks on a the Wild West management plan: Killing animals and using cruel methods to do so.
And next year at this time, there will be less money in the Greenwood Village coffers, continued, perhaps increasing incidental run-ins with humans — and, just as the DOW spokeswoman indicated, more coyotes!! Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Photo: Life magazine 1941
February 9, 2009 No Comments