Good afternoon, Will. Hope this finds you well. As you’re likely aware, there has been recent publicity regarding the presence of coyotes, particularly in various of Belmont’s big woods, which pose a threat to pets and people of small stature. Belmont, of course, is not unique; the Winchester and Middlesex Fells and other urban and suburban wooded areas have established packs of coyote. I’ve seen coyotes while cycling on the bicycle path in Lexington and Bedford. And a couple of years ago, I saw three coyotes tearing apart a kill (someone’s pet) at dusk on the sidewalk next to the Arnold Arboretum. A coyote seen last summer on the Boston Common was pursued up Beacon Hill where it was brought to bay in an alley and dispatched by revolver fire. That these formerly shy creatures have moved into suburban Boston starting in the late 1970s, and are now frequently seen, suggests that they’re evolving or adapting, and like western mountain lion, losing their fear of human beings.
This is buttressed by information posted on the Town’s web site, which together with reports of multiple coyote attacks on dogs, including two deaths, suggests that if “you’re nervous about coyotes, carry a stick. But waving your arms and yelling at them is becoming more and more ineffective, as this is the method that has been promoted for a long time by many animal organizations and I believe these intelligent creatures have learned that this gesturing from us is non-threatening.” That may not have been of help to the young woman attacked and killed by coyotes while hiking in Nova Scotia in 2009.
Officials have been quoted as saying that nothing can be done, as these animals are now here to stay, and if removed or killed, other coyotes will move into the newly vacant niche, but like other formerly shy creatures they’re rapidly adapting. When I was a boy, one never heard or saw loons on New England lakes with summer homes or motor boats, but during the last thirty years loons are now willing to reside in close proximity to humans. Eagles are another example – – in recent years they’ve been seen nesting on places such as Mystic Lake, next to the busy Mystic Valley Parkway. I’ve a photo on my wall of a bald eagle lifting a full grown Canada goose off the ice – – a veritable sky crane, as adult geese generally exceed fifteen pounds in weight – – on Winchester’s highly trafficked Wedge Pond.
In the case of predators such as mountain lion, Grizzly bear, and coyotes, the missing common sense element in the equation is meaningful aggressive behavior by human beings – – generally with shotguns rather than rifles. I know from many summers in Glacier, Montana that old time rangers confined Grizzlies to the high country by peppering them with rock salt from shotguns whenever they appeared, or periodically shooting a sub-adult bear establishing inappropriate territory, leaving the less aggressive black bear to inhabit the lower reaches of the Park. This policy was abandoned in the 1960s, and there’s now a reported death almost every year from Grizzlies, when formerly there were none.
The Town’s parks and open spaces are important amenities, to which human residents should have unfettered access. We take long walks with our small dog in the woods, and have become more than a little wary of doing so, as the trend is in the wrong direction. Notwithstanding that we have numerous other issues of great social importance, we believe that this is a regional problem and could be addressed by the Commonwealth without great expense, rather than by placing yet another burden on individual municipalities, and would like your thoughts on the matter.