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Living and Playing in Coyote Country

Author: Mary Ann Bonnell, Visitor Services Supervisor, Jefferson County Open Space, Co-Principal Investigator, Denver Metro Area Coyote Study

Date: September 2014

Living and Playing in Coyote Country. Article by Mary Ann Bonnell

Creating coyote-savvy open space users and residents helps reduce conflict between coyotes, pets and people throughout Jefferson County. Educating and motivating citizens to help preserve open space and the wild species that use it is at the core of the PLAN Jeffco mission. This is the first of two articles designed to improve our understanding of and to stimulate conversation about coyotes and their presence in our parks and communities. The comments and observations quoted below are actual observations and thoughts from Jefferson County residents and park users and are taken directly from the comment section of the Denver Metro Area Coyote Hazing Survey (Winter 2014).

Please join the conversation—send your coyote comments or questions to: mbonnell@cojefferson.co.us

Coyote Savvy Concept #1: Coyotes Make Great Open Space Managers

"We like [coyotes] because they take care of rodents such as mice and prairie dogs."

"Frankly, I LIKE the coyotes. I avoid my neighborhood park because of the geese and their 'leavings' - the coyotes keep Crown Hill clean!"

Simply put, it pays to have coyotes living in open space. Coyotes help manage populations of would-be nuisance or economically damaging species such as mice, geese, rabbits and insects. Coyotes enrich our open space experience with a rare opportunity to watch an apex predator in action.

"Coyotes enforce the leash laws. They are helpful."

"Off-leash dogs are an invitation for [coyote] conflict."

"What we need is more responsible actions on the numerous people I see letting their dog run off leash. This is not good for the dog or the coyote."

While coyotes are not officially part of the Jefferson County Open Space Volunteer team, they might as well be. Coyote-savvy dog walkers know that the best way to keep a dog safe when walking in coyote country is to keep it on a leash. As the local "top dog", coyotes sometimes are compelled to see our domestic canines as direct competition for resources such as food and territory. This competitive urge tends to peak during breeding, denning and pupping season. In parks, this competitive urge can play out in "escorting" behavior where a coyote will trot, at a distance, alongside or behind a dog walker. Dog walkers experiencing this unnerving behavior should be prepared to shorten their lead and actively "haze" or scare the coyote off by yelling, waiving arms and using noisemakers such as a whistle or air horn. Dog walkers should never allow pets to approach pups or known den sites. As pups emerge and begin to explore their surroundings, coyote parents can exhibit heightened aggression toward dogs that get too close to pups or den sites.

"The majority of dog owners that I have seen...are morons, countless owners take their dog up to "play" with the coyotes...can you put up signs encouraging people to haze the stupid dog owners as well?"

Dog owners should never let their dog play with or chase coyotes. Coyote has earned its "trickster" reputation for many reasons. One is its ability to trick dogs into thinking they're on a play date only to find the whole thing was a set up for an aggressive ambush by one or more coyotes. No matter how big your dog is, it is no match for a family group of coyotes. As some pet owners know all too well, coyote's "top dog" behavior is not limited to open space. Unattended dogs left in backyards can also be perceived as direct competition for a local coyote's food or territorial resources. Fences mean nothing to a coyote if it is feeling threatened by the presence of a domestic dog. Don't take any chances with your best friend. Make sure you supervise backyard time, particularly at dawn, dusk and through the wee hours of the night. It may seem like a burden, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Coyote Savvy Concept #2: Which Came First, Coyotes or People?

"THE COYOTES WERE HERE FIRST...LEAVE THEM ALONE AND THEY WILL LEAVE YOU ALONE.

"Coyotes need places to live since humans keep developing land where animals were living."

"I feel we're intruding on their territory, not the other way around."

"They were here first. This is their land."

"I hate coyotes, period. They're too big a predator to be tolerated in a city."

While there is no question that coyotes lived and thrived on the Colorado Front Range long before humans colonized it, the research community largely agrees that the presence of people has made being a coyote a bit easier in many important ways. The best thing humans did for the coyote was eradicate wolves, which are the only animal known to successfully manage coyote populations. With the absence of wolves and the addition of rich, irrigated landscapes with fruit trees and locally abundant rabbits, squirrels and mice, many note that urban coyotes live lives of luxury and excess far beyond the wildest dreams of their shortgrass prairie-scrabbling ancestors. If you look at it through the eyes of an incredibly opportunistic and flexible creature like the coyote, humans may have invaded the coyote's original territory, and we have arguably improved upon it in some key ways.

Coyote Savvy Concept #3: Humans Have a Direct Role in Reducing Coyote Conflict

"My impression is that most conflict is human-created."

"Education is the best way to preserve these animals in such an urban area.

Regardless of how you feel about coyotes, knowing more about them, their behavior and ecology in urban environments can reduce your chances of experiencing direct conflict with them. Simple acts of stewardship like keeping your pet leashed, supervising your pet in the yard and keeping cats indoors, particularly at night, are a great start. Taking care not to inadvertently feed coyotes by leaving pet food and water out or leaving food scraps in parks is another way to do your part in coyote conflict mitigation. Taking a moment to scare coyotes away that come too close, engage you, or enter your backyard is a more active way to help reduce conflict. I think this survey respondent said it best, "Being cautious and aware, along with exercising a little common sense has served me well."

Copyright © 2014 Mary Ann Bonnell




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