There is an aggressive group of anti-coyote propogandists emerging in many communities, as a recent article in the Los Angeles Times on the presence of coyotes in a dozen or so California localities suggests. The belligerence of these propagandists, and their disdain for best practices for managing coyotes’ presence in urban and suburban communities, should worry us all.
The heart of the matter is this: Coyotes live among us, and killing and depopulation efforts are not effective solutions to conflicts with them, short term or long term. Kill coyotes, the science suggests, and you will have just as many within a year or two. It is a commonplace principle in population biology that when coyotes are removed from viable habitat, other coyotes will find it and start living there. Research also suggests that when aggressively controlled, coyotes can increase their reproductive rate, breeding at an earlier age and having larger litters, with a higher survival rate among the young. This allows coyote populations to quickly bounce back, even when as much as 70 percent of their numbers are removed.
None of us would deny the importance of ensuring public safety and taking judicious steps to minimize human-coyote contact and potential conflict. But waging war against coyotes (and other wildlife) is never the answer. There is a new and better approach taking hold in many communities where wild animals live in proximity to humans. It’s premised on coexistence and intelligent interventions, greater public awareness and understanding, responsible care and stewardship of domestic pets, and other measures to minimize the potential for harm to all residents, human and nonhuman.
This worldview doesn’t set humans and animals apart from one another; rather, it acknowledges animals’ presence in our lives, and encourages tolerance. It emphasizes the need for deeper comprehension of coyote behavior and biology, and it doesn’t default to a “they don’t belong here” perspective that calls for eradication. Instead, it relies on the ingenuity and goodwill of humans, finding ways to understand, interpret and control coyote behavior and recognize when we need to modify our own behavior to prevent conflicts in the first place.
Successful coexistence demands that we do our best to take charge over risk factors in our communities and home environments. In many cities and towns, community management plans guide response, and government and non-governmental entities reach out to inform residents on how to avoid or minimize contact with coyotes, by not feeding them, keeping trash bins tightly sealed, never leaving pet food outside and picking up fruit fallen from their trees, and hazing (using deterrence to reshape behavior) any coyotes that seem to be too comfortable among humans. In Manhattan Beach, for example, officials use door hangers to educate residents, and the city’s app now features a coyote sighting category.
Our responsibility for domestic animals in our care is an important component of effective response, and it’s likely that some of the attacks described in the Times article and other reports could be avoided through preventive measures such as keeping cats indoors and dogs on leash when out and about.
It’s hard not to see this anger and penchant for killing of coyotes as part of a broader demonization of the species. Over the last five years, through its Wildlife Services division, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has killed more than 60,000 coyotes a year in its predator management programs. In addition, countless thousands of coyotes are targeted in wildlife killing contests—callous, craven and violent in the extreme. In an attempt to capture the full range of human-linked coyote deaths, Dan Flores, in his 2016 book Coyote America, placed the number of coyotes killed annually (by government agencies, members of public, killing contests, hunting, trapping and human-wildlife conflict managers) at 500,000.
We’re working to reform a number of these practices, and in the case of wildlife killing contests, to end them altogether. As long as they flourish, they will fuel the antagonism that drives the killing of coyotes in communities not only in California, but across the country. We can’t let a few highly biased individuals and interest groups undermine successful wildlife management and conflict-resolution approaches based on science, creative response and a nuanced understanding of wildlife behavior.