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March 19, 2007
Experts Say Education Key to Solving Urban Coyote Problems
DALLAS, Texas — Seeing a coyote in the countryside is a part of nature, but when you spot one in your backyard, that’s a different story. As urban areas continue to expand and develop the rangeland that was once coyote habitat, sightings of the wild canine continue to grow, and so do the problems.
While injuries to people from coyotes are extremely rare in Texas, domesticated animals don’t tend to fare as well. Pet cats and small dogs left outside unattended may become easy meals for hungry coyotes.
While it is almost impossible, as well as impractical, for suburbanites to get rid of coyotes, it is possible to learn to live with and manage coyote problems, according to Dallas County Urban Wildlife Biologist Brett Johnson of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
At Texas’ first-ever Urban Wildlife Conference, “Managing Urban Wildlife: Planning for Success,” Feb. 20, Johnson explained that coyotes will not simply move out of an area because development moves in. In fact, human activities may unintentionally draw coyotes into an area.
“On a regular basis, cities and private industries try to remove coyotes from an area, but they are incredibly adaptable,” said Johnson. “In fact, a coyote can actually make a better living in an urban area than it can out in the country because there are more food resources available. Coyotes are here to stay.”
In order to coexist peacefully with the coyote, Johnson advocates a few simple steps. First and foremost, people need to be more aggressive toward coyotes in urban areas.
“If you see one, you should try to scare it,” he said. “They’re not out to hurt you, but if they get used to humans they have the potential to get bolder.”
Combining a loud voice with a negative physical impact increases the likelihood of deterrence.
“Either spray it with a water hose or literally throw something at it. Use a stick or a small rock or something that will create, in the coyote’s mind, a negative association with humans,” said Johnson.
Johnson said it is also most important to eliminate incentives for coyotes to hang around.
“If coyotes are showing up in your neighborhood, it means they have found a food source of some variety. In urban areas, that often means they’re going after pet food or discarded table scraps.”
Putting cat or dog food bowls outside can attract coyotes or other nuisance wildlife. Homeowners using bird seed with corn mixed into it, or leaving corn or other food out to attract deer will likely lure coyotes as well.
“We just have to make some simple changes to our behavior, like proper pet food management, keeping pet food indoors and keeping our pets inaccessible to coyotes,” said Johnson, who added that garbage is another potential problem. “People need to keep garbage, especially food waste, securely covered or otherwise out of reach of coyotes.”
City officials and neighborhood organizations can also help mitigate coyote-related problems by enacting a coyote management program like that which is currently being used in Austin.
When coyotes in northwest Austin began preying on pets in broad daylight in 2004, some of whose owners were just feet away, residents grew concerned, and managing the coyote problem became a priority.
Dorinda Pulliam, Animal Control Director for City of Austin Health and Human Services Department, had been collecting data on coyote sightings for several years.
“I knew that some day somebody was going to ask me about this problem, and that if I could answer with real data, we could get a response based on what’s really happening in the community,” said Pulliam.
Pulliam suggested a coordinated effort between the City of Austin, Travis County and Texas Wildlife Services.
“The city and the county own most of the properties available as habitat, so collaboration provides not only seamless customer responsiveness in both jurisdictions, but also an ease of coordination on properties where removal activities might be required,” Pulliam said.
Because Pulliam’s data collection could pinpoint repeated patterns of aggressive coyote behavior in specific locations, the city was able to focus on eliminating only problem coyotes.
Pulliam said another key to Austin’s success is a continued effort to educate the public. This bolsters the program’s effectiveness, as human behavior is an important part of managing coyotes. She and Randy Farrar, a wildlife biologist with Texas Cooperative Extension in Austin, give presentations to area neighborhood organizations who want to be better informed about coyote management.
The City of Austin also keeps an email database of neighborhood organizations that allows Pulliam to disseminate coyote information throughout the county with just a click of a button.
“It works well because we can efficiently reach people. We can let them know when and why to expect increased coyote activity and we also do seasonal news releases to alert people about coyote issues that can get worse at different times of year,” she said.
Johnson and other urban wildlife biologists hope to see program’s similar to the City of Austin’s duplicated in other Texas cities.
For more information about how to manage urban coyotes, people can phone the TPWD Wildlife Information Hotline at (512) 389-4505 and ask for the number of an urban wildlife biologist near them. Interested parties can also call their local Texas Cooperative Extension county agent. For serious coyote control problems, call the Texas Wildlife Wildlife Services state office in San Antonio at (210) 472-5451.
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