Coyotes in the cross hairs in Colorado
Rocky Mountain News
Coyotes, hyper-adaptable creatures that can make a home just about anywhere, have become a fixture in Front Range communities. But cities, landowners and others have made few efforts to cull their numbers – until now.
Greenwood Village voted last week to hire a private company to shoot the animals after numerous attacks on pets and one in December on a teenager, who was able to fend off the coyote and was unhurt. Other cities are also wrestling with how to cope with the animals, reacting to a smattering of scary encounters.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife plans an all-day symposium Wednesday for city officials trying to address coyote-human conflicts. Broomfield is holding its own community forum Wednesday evening.
It’s hardly just a Colorado problem. Coyotes have grown comfortable in urban environments. Cities from Chicago to St. Louis to Los Angeles have struggled with the animals, which feast on pets as well as abundant rodents and eventually lose all fear of people, said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“If you covered the whole state of Colorado in concrete, they’d still be here,” she said. She noted that coyotes aren’t migrating from elsewhere, but have taken up full-time residence in cities – where they’re born, live and die. “They’re pretty much our coyotes now.”
Greenwood Village’s city council approved limited shooting of coyotes in parks, trails and open spaces, where numerous encounters have occurred, and also wants to set out traps. City manager Jim Sanderson said police data show 20 reported coyote attacks in the city – the teen being the sole human target – since Jan. 1, 2008.
“We’re trying to make people understand this isn’t about trying to eradicate the coyote population; we’re just managing it,” said Sanderson. He compared it with the efforts to cull elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, where too many animals are harming willows, aspens and other parts of the natural system.
Sanderson said Greenwood Village has worked hard to dispense advice to residents, including keeping pets indoors or on a leash and hazing coyotes with rocks, sticks and shouts to make them afraid of people. But it’s not working.
“They’re very familiar with people and not scared off at all,” he said.
Officials are also planning to apply for a permit with the Tri-County Health Department that would allow the town to use leg-hold traps to capture the coyotes, which would then be shot.
The Tri-County Health Department has OK’d only seven such permits since 1998, said Richard Vogt, the agency’s executive director. Using the traps requires government permission because voters passed an anti-trapping provision in 1996.
The agency is cautious about approving trapping for several reasons, including the fact that dogs – and even people – have ended up stuck in them in the past, Vogt said.
He also said coyote sightings are common “but sightings don’t equate to a human health or safety problem.” While the coyote population has probably increased, Vogt said, humans have also encroached on their territory.
Greenwood Village has yet to submit its petition for trapping to the agency. Two years ago, it received permission to trap coyotes. But after trapping four of them, Tri-County revoked the permit, arguing it was sufficient to make up for the four incidents involving “aggressive” coyotes, including a case where an animal chased a child to a bus stop.
“I’m not sure we agreed with that,” Sanderson said.
Vogt said health departments in Boulder and Jefferson counties have reported very little interest in petitions to trap the animals.
The incidents seem to be higher in the three counties – Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas – covered by his agency, he said.
In Broomfield last month, a coyote nipped a woman on the arm. “I think this is a first for us – the first time we’ve heard of something like this,” said Kristin Pritz, head of open space and trails.
Consequently, Broomfield doesn’t share the level of concern of Greenwood Village and has no plans to shoot or trap the animals. The meeting this week, Pritz said, is more an effort to educate the public about the animals and their biology, and actions people can take to avoid problems.