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.
Although Mr. Alper didn’t offer any solutions, I’m guessing he’s leaning towards some sort of lethal control method. Most people don’t realize that coyotes respond to lethal methods by ramping up their litters and litter sizes. Decades of research prove that killing coyotes only produces more coyotes in the long term. We will never get rid of coyotes by any lethal means, so the best thing we can do is to learn how to peacefully coexist with them.
I’ve been selected to represent Project Coyote (projectcoyote.org) in Massachusetts. I am currently writing a “Coyote Management Plan” for the Town of Belmont, which as you probably know, has been coexisting with coyotes for almost ten years. Education is the key element and coexistence is attainable; we’ve been doing it in Belmont. Part of the plan consists of trained “hazers”. It is true that waving you arms, yelling and the other recommendations we’ve been hearing about are losing their effectiveness. Coyotes are intelligent animals, but proper hazing has, and does work.
I would love the opportunity to speak with you in depth about this plan and maybe, in time, develop a state-wide plan. Before anything can be done, understanding these creatures, how they breed, how the play in the ecology role, and the benefits of having them must be understood. I have been educating Massachusetts citizens for 10 years and have only had positive feedback from all (over 100) of the presentations I’ve given.
Am surprised at Mr. Maguaranis’ assumption that I’m seeking a lethal control method, though would not rule it out. I’d very much like to know what is meant by “hazing”; the elements of the proposed Coyote Management Plan; what comprises “positive feedback”; and what steps individuals ought to take to protect themselves and their pets both around their neighborhoods at night, or in the woods.
The Town website recommends that we turn on the lights and look around our yards before letting dogs out at night, and keep cats indoors at all times – – am not sure that such adaptation by humans (not coyotes) constitutes coexistence.
The MSPCA’s Living With Wildlife program promotes peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife in Massachusetts’ communities through humane, long-term, and cost-effective resolutions of human-animal conflicts. We’ve been hearing more about coyotes near Boston recently, and we’ve got a lot of information online at: http://www.mspca.org/programs/wildlife-resources/species-information/coyote/. It is not difficult to co-exist with coyotes; people in less urban areas of the state have been succeeded in doing so for decades and more urban dwellers can do so, too. Coyotes are not true predators like the grizzlies and mountain lions mentioned above; they are opportunistic scavengers. They’re seen closer to Boston because they can find what they need – food, water, shelter – and they have adapted to living in a human-dominated landscape. Residents need to realize this and behave accordingly by making their homes/yards less inviting to coyotes, and by hazing them when they behave inappropriately, which will reduce conflicts.
I am not an expert on this issue, but John and Linda are. John is the Town of Belmont’s Animal Control Officer and Linda is speaking based on the position of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Both of them care about deeply for the welfare of pets who might be threatened by coyotes.
I’m inclined to defer to their thoughts, although I’m certainly open to listening to additional discussion on the issue.
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