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Hazing favored over killing Colorado's urban coyotes
By Bruce Finley - The Denver Post
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Some experts say killing coyotes has never worked, as their numbers just bound back. (Post file photo)

Front Range coyote populations are adapting to urban environments, resulting in increased numbers of clashes between humans and wild canines and a push by wildlife managers to resolve the conflict without killing the animals.

Federal records show more than 3,500 coyote-incident reports have been logged in the metro area since 2003. Most were mere sightings, but the records also show about 400 coyote attacks on pets and 21 attacks on people.

"Coyotes' goal is to carve out a place where they can make a living and reproduce," said Stewart Breck, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins. "Just by the sheer number of large cities that now have coyotes, they are very successful."

At least 31 coyotes have been euthanized by state and contract sharpshooters in the Denver area over the past 20 months, even as some experts warn that killing coyotes has never worked.

A new federally coordinated effort to craft an innovative response to coyotes favors "hazing" over eradication. The idea is to condition coyotes to stay away from people. Proposed tactics include deploying such tools as jack-in-the-box-style "scary men," "coyote rollers" mounted atop backyard fences and flashing light-noise-water- spray devices triggered when coyotes cross laser beams.

Denver parks staffers and volunteers have led the new approach by patrolling urban greenbelts and open spaces while banging pots and pans and blowing whistles.

Test public thinking

Colorado cities' efforts stand out as one of the more innovative responses as coyote populations have grown in cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Breck is coordinating the work with city and state wildlife managers.

First step: sending out surveys to test public thinking. After that, Breck, whose previous work involved bears and wolves, said researchers will investigate coyotes' urban adaptations.

The challenge is big. Coyotes in cities howl in response to sirens, occasionally scavenge garbage and look at unleashed dogs as intruders on their turf.

They are proving adept, adjusting their hunting in cities so that "they are most active when people are least active," Breck said.

But the emerging generation of coyotes bred and raised in cities still retains pack-hunting ways. "Certainly, they know the old language," he said. "They are still coyotes."

The challenge with hazing is that after a few weeks, urban coyotes begin to ignore flashing lights and sounds, he said, forcing residents to come up with new hazing methods.

Colorado Division of Wildlife officers have euthanized 21 coyotes since December 2008, most recently on North Table Mountain in Golden in April after a man was bitten by a coyote while walking his dog, agency spokesman Jerry Neal said.

But state officials too are leaning toward nonlethal options.

"The Division of Wildlife will remove coyotes only when they have attacked or caused injuries to people," Neal said. "The Division of Wildlife does not remove coyotes for conflicts involving pets."

Greenwood Village Police and a contractor have killed 10 other coyotes since March 2009, said Ryan Gregory, assistant to the city manager. Police also devoted 565 hours this past year to trying to haze coyotes, including using paint-ball guns.

"They haven't had much success actually hitting the coyotes," Gregory said, "so we are certainly not relying on that."

Response team created

Many residents and coyote advocates see killing as counterproductive.

"Sure, you will have an initial decline (in coyote populations), but they will come back stronger," said Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, a conservation group.

The U.S. government between 1915 and 1947 paid more than $1.8 million in $1 bounties for dead coyotes. Today, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials estimate coyote populations are as high as ever.

In Centennial, about 25 volunteers and city staffers have created a team that responds to scenes of attacks on pet cats and dogs. They erect warning signs, advising residents to keep pets indoors, and distribute whistles. A city official also makes phone calls to bereaved pet owners, consoling them and offering insights on coyote behavior.

Coexistence advocates increasingly suggest that cats and dogs be let outdoors only on leashes — an adjustment aimed at restricting coyote feeding to foxes, raccoons and small vermin.

Some veterinarians handling injured pets question whether hazing will work in the long term.

The coyotes "are getting bolder," said David Specht, who has treated dogs and cats attacked by coyotes in the south metro area. Formerly a federal wildlife officer working with alligators in Florida, Specht sees greenbelts as the essential pathways enabling coyotes to move into cities.

A decade ago here, "we didn't see these kinds of altercations," Specht said this week after hearing from a client whose cat had just been killed by a coyote. "Bottom line, you're dealing with a predator. Once they attack a pet, it's more than likely that it is going to escalate to the point that there's no fear of people anymore."

Front Range cities need a new alternative — non-lethal removal of coyotes that become problems for people, said dog owner Pam Giesler, 60.

While she was walking her 10-pound Yorkshire Terrier, Jasmine, last year on a leash at a Lakewood apartment complex, three coyotes darted from behind parked cars and attacked, Giesler said. The coyotes snatched Jasmine and dragged her away. She fought back and returned to Giesler, bloody.

Then, as the coyotes returned, an employee inside a fitness center pulled Giesler and the dog indoors.

"The coyotes circled the fitness center for awhile," Giesler said. "What frightens me is, my daughter lives in that complex with two small children. When coyotes start coming after people and dogs, it's dangerous. I'm always wary now. My eyes are open at all times. It's not pleasant."

Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700 or bfinley@denverpost.com

10/01/2010

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Last revised: October 10, 2010