2018-08-02 / Opinion

Becoming Coyote Smart

By Jo Yellis

Five years into our campaign to raise public awareness about coyotes, we are gratified to learn that our work is starting to make a difference. At a recent meeting of the Middletown Town Council, Chief of Police Anthony Pesare reported that coyote complaints are on the decline thanks to our education and outreach efforts.

Middletown has certainly made the most of our coyote management toolkit. It was the first community to pass a wildlife no-feeding ordinance and the third to adopt the Coyote Best Management Practices developed by the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS) and endorsed by CoyoteSmarts. It also makes use of the Coyote Complaint Protocol recommended by NBCS that lists the steps to be taken in response to a range of coyote behaviors from crossing lawns to attacks on people and pets. Middletown has also offered assistance in removing major food resources and takes advantage of the school programs offered through the Potter League for third-grade and middle school students.

This year the Potter League instituted pre- and post-testing of school classes participating in its humane education programs with some impressive results regarding coyotes. When third graders were presented with the statement “We are helping coyotes when we leave food out for them,” only 32 percent disagreed at the start of the program. After six weekly lessons, that number rose to 63 percent.

Further evidence of progress can be found on the Nextdoor website, where local residents of- ten engage in conversations about coyotes. The tone and substance of these discussions have evolved over the years and now show that people are not only getting our messages about living safely with coyotes but are helping to share and reinforce them.

In addition to raising public awareness, our outreach efforts have yielded some tangible results.

In response to increased coyote activity last fall, Newport adopted the NBCS Coyote Best Management Practices, bringing the city on board with the other area communities that had already taken this important step.

In addition, Newport and Jamestown joined Middletown and Portsmouth in adopting wildlife no-feeding ordinances. While an important tool in wildlife management, these ordinances can be difficult to enforce. Even though research has shown that food subsidies provided by humans play a major role in coyote traffic and behavior, most municipalities do not have the resources needed to seek out and remove them. More often than not, enforcement depends on the willingness of people to drop a dime on their neighbors, and many are uncomfortable with that.

Nevertheless, we have seen some encouraging examples of success. A couple of years ago, Portsmouth became the first local community—and possibly the first in the country—to enforce its wildlife ordinance by prosecuting a resident for intentionally feeding coyotes. Jamestown became the second this spring by taking action against a resident whose bird feeding methods were attracting rats, which in turn were attracting coyotes.

More recently, Newport has also stepped up to the plate. Coyote complaints were on the rise last fall in the neighborhood frequented by “Cliff the Coyote” prior to his capture and relocation. While Cliff was removed, the food sources that sustained him were not, so his pack mates continued to visit the area and made their presence felt. Things came to a head when a female coyote—possibly Cliff’s mother—gave birth to a litter of pups. This was a clear indication that, in the eyes of coyotes, Newport is not just a fun place to visit but also a great place to settle down and raise a family.

In response, the city ordered the removal of an open compost pile thought to be a major attractant. The no-feeding ordinance defines attractant as “Any substance which could reasonably be expected to attract or does attract coyotes or other non-domesticated animals, including but not limited to garbage, food products, pet food, carcasses, feed, grain.” Our experience has shown that feral cat feeding stations, fish remains at boat ramps, and fallen or low-hanging fruit also serve as coyote attractants.

As for the pups born in Newport, two were captured and relocated to Massachusetts and two remain at large. If you see them, please don’t feed them. Help us keep our wildlife wild and our pets and communities safe.

For more information, please visit our website at coyotesmarts.org.

Jo Yellis is Project Coordinator for CoyoteSmarts, a public information initiative of the Potter League for Animals, Norman Bird Sanctuary, Aquidneck Land Trust, RI Natural History Survey, and The Conservation Agency, home to the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study.

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