Weekly Feature



2017-08-16 / Front Page

Coyote ugly

Concern grows toward aggressive coyote behavior
by ETHAN POWERS
Editor

Chuck Anderson has lived on Tonawanda Creek Road for 18 years. In April, he had his closest-ever encounter with the coyotes that he hears howling on a nightly basis.

(See editorial on page four)

Anderson routinely lets his dogs out at 10:30 p.m., and they often find creatures to bark at and run after within his fenced-in yard. On that April night, Anderson remembers them barking particularly loudly as they spotted something just beyond the fence.

When Anderson looked up, he saw a coyote approaching the fence line. When one of his dogs stuck his nose through the fence, the coyote bit him underneath the right eye.

Anderson quickly collected his dogs while attempting to scare the coyote back into the wilderness.

“I’ve never seen one that was that confrontational and didn’t care that I was standing there screaming at it from a foot away,” he said.

Anderson, who worked for more than 30 years for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, says he’s now armed when he accompanies his dogs outside.

“It’s far more prevalent now than ever,” he said. “On my street alone, there’s been five or six dogs killed, plus a pony.”

He’s not the only one ringing the alarm. The town has fielded an unusually high number of reports regarding coyote sightings this summer. So much so that it felt compelled to issue a notice to the residents of the Stonebriar neighborhood last week after a coyote attacked a small dog while its owner was outside and nearby.

Valerie Acee, a resident of Clarence Center Road, said she was sitting in her living room with her husband in broad daylight when they saw a coyote walk across their yard, only to see another one just hours later.

“I’ve been here since 1998. We’ve never had a coyote in our yard before,” she said.

Jim Braun, who lives within a cul-de-sac that backs up to Ransom Creek, has also called Clarence home since ’98. Until recently, he, too, had not seen coyotes so close to his property during the day. In speaking by phone with The Clarence Bee, Braun said the sightings do seem to be occurring with greater frequency.

“It’s all woods behind us — there he goes again!” Braun interjected while describing the layout of his property, noting that there’s a coyote that appears to be frequenting the woods behind his home.

“He hasn’t threatened anything as of yet,” Braun said. “He’s staying way at the back of the property, and he’s not coming in close to the house.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 9 office, which handles environmental concerns related to Western New York, states that while there are factors that could cause coyotes to become bolder during this time of year, the office has not seen an increase in reported coyote activity or attacks.

Kristen Davidson, a public affairs representative for Region 9, told The Clarence Bee that the office received two calls about a coyote in Clarence Center last week, and both were from neighbors who had only heard about the problem.

“Coyotes are an integral part of New York’s natural ecosystem, but can also come into conflict with people if they become habituated to humans and food sources,” Davidson wrote in an email. “With the onset of warmer weather, many of New York’s coyotes will set up dens for pups that arrive in the spring. Coyotes are well-adapted to suburban and even urban environments, but for the most part will avoid contact with people.”

Researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry estimate that there are roughly 30,000 coyotes in New York. Due to the time of year, says the DEC, coyotes can become more territorial and more active during the daytime during pup-rearing season.

Making matters worse, coyotes can come to associate people with food when homeowners leave scraps outside. This is a dangerous game, the DEC notes, because the coyotes can lose their natural fear of humans, and the potential for close encounters or conflicts increases.

While the diet of coyotes naturally includes squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, mice and deer fawns, coyotes are more than willing to feast on any food that people throw away.

“I think one of the main problems is the food source. People could be feeding birds, feeding their own pets out on the back porch, and coyotes are out there during the day getting dinner,” said Town Supervisor Patrick Casilio. “If they know there’s an easy food source, they’ll be out there. People also take out table scraps and dump them in the woods for the animals. All of that is going to draw the coyotes closer to homes.”

Casilio said that at his house he had seen two different coyotes walk through his yard on consecutive days last week. He stated that he is planning to petition the state for a longer hunting season and is trying to amend the town’s deer abatement program to include coyotes.

In the fall, trappers can get permits to trap coyotes and other small game. Hunters can shoot coyotes but not within 500 feet of a private dwelling. Casilio believes that while these options should be considered, ridding the coyotes of easy food sources needs to remain a common-sense initiative.

“I think it would make it far safer for the public if we can eliminate food sources,” he said. “That would be more effective than any abatement program or extension of a hunting season.”

The town has removed dams from the Ransom Creek area in an effort to mitigate potential coyote dens. Casilio added that the town is set on hosting an information forum for residents that will include animal advocacy groups such as the Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and Environment, though a date has not been set.

He also pointed out that private homeowners have more power than the town does when dealing with coyotes encroaching onto property.

“We cannot enter private property and take a coyote,” he said. “The homeowner is allowed to defend their property if they feel there is a threat there.”

While it remains unclear what might cause coyotes to display more aggression than usual during a particular season, the DEC notes that coyotes breeding with wolves in the eastern part of the United States and Canada could cause abnormal behavior, though the best way of minimizing conflicts between coyotes and people is to maintain the animals’ fear of humans.

The DEC advises residents not to feed pets outside, make garbage inaccessible to animals, eliminate the availability of birdseed and be aggressive when coming into contact with a coyote.

“Stand tall and hold arms out to look large. If a coyote lingers for too long, make loud noises, wave your arms, or throw sticks and stones,” Davidson wrote via email.

Like Anderson, Braun now accompanies his dog outside every night, and while he’s not sure that eradicating the coyote population would be the most effective solution to the growing problem, he’s no longer taking chances.

“We never thought twice about letting him go out at any time in the day or night, but that’s all changed now,” Braun said. “We’re not going to take a chance on him being attacked.”

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