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
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
Another journal entry from Yellowstone. Save for Alaska, there is no place we love more than the area around the Lamar Valley, the valley of the wolves.
Anne says she thinks there is a gutpile at the west end of the valley that we can check out, so we are in the Lamar by quarter to seven. Lots of clouds and dark, so we sit out at the spot where we left the wolves last night and just listen.
It’s not the finding, it’s the looking, as John the Ranger says.
We are listening for wolf howls, which are usually faint but can echo across the valley when you’re lucky. All we could hear was a bison across the road snoring. Making a real racket, too.
Then it was over to Slough Creek, where we spotted Carl, a friend of Anne’s and a WMD. He’s got a couple of Christian women from Livingston who have paid him a couple hundred bucks each to show them megafauna and take pictures.
With Carl at the helm, it is money well spent; these women have a power stronger than prayer. We drove it yesterday, so we know that Livingston is a good two hours away. It’s seven fifteen a.m., and they beat us here — do the math. Carl is on the gutpile hotline, too.
The carcass is down below us in a valley of dense sage near the river. I know the spot well, having watched bears and coyotes feed on a kill in the sage a couple years ago when a grizz treed a black bear while a mom and cubs chewed down the carcass.
We’re not more than a hundred and fifty yards from a grizzly tearing at a hunk of bison. A shrub conceals the carcass, but at one point you can see him lift the rib cage, pulling for another chop.
Gutpiles are important to lots of critters. Five very healthy looking coyotes, coats shining, are around the carcass, too, skittering around waiting for their chance at scraps. We are downwind, and you begin to notice the change in smell, which quickly brings on nausea even at this distance. Remembering bears’ powerful sense of smell, if it affects me this far away, how far away can bears smell it? Bears and humans are alike in so many aspects, but here we part ways; the more rancid the carcass, the more bears seem to enjoy it.
The coyotes go off on a tear, yipping, yelping, making those strange coyote noises. Since we are so close, we don’t want to disturb the bear, so Anne goes to move the car, Carl heads off for the Lamar with the Christian ladies and Billie and I watch the bear for awhile, scratching and tearing at what’s left of the carcass.
Suddenly, it heads off, and the coyotes take over. In a moment, the bear disappears behind a knoll, and for a few disconcerting moments, I’m trying to figure out if it might be heading in our direction or down where Anne is parking the car.
As it turns out, the bear had already crossed the road by the time I got to Anne. In minutes, he is in the high country and a boulder field hides his path.
- October 13, 2005
September 22, 2007 No Comments