We’re creatures of habit, have long-term relationships, and feed and protect our offspring, sending them into the world when they’re old enough to fend for themselves.
As a result, we can admire their curiosity, intelligence, adaptability and Houdini-like ability to evade capture and survive eradication programs, but have a hard time condoning their crimes.
Coyotes will eat our small pets, causing many people to ask for the death penalty. Recently, that penalty was carried out in Seattle’s Magnolia area when wildlife agents trapped and shot an aggressive coyote.
Trappers are part of the coyote story. They relied on body-gripping traps that closed around a paw or leg until 2000, when successful Initiative 713 banned them for recreational trapping. “It banned 85 percent of the trapper’s tool box,” said Donny Martorello, special-species section manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The initiative focused on humane treatment, not efficiency or science. Left with trap styles ineffective with cautious coyotes, the dynamics changed overnight.
“We’re still struggling about the long-term implications,” Martorello said. An increase in coyote numbers may be happening although biologists can only infer without population studies.
Increased complaints about coyotes to regional DFW offices are one indication. Long-term records aren’t kept but an increased human population and less hunting territory probably play a role in the number of interactions.
Permits are issued to trap wildlife for safety and predation reasons, said Sean Carrell, problem-wildlife coordinator for DFW’s enforcement program.
From 2001 to 2005, permits climbed from 63 to 101 for all wildlife problems, Carrell said. Since then, complaints have averaged 102 per year.
Although the DFW Web site estimates there are 50,000 coyotes in the state, like cougars, they are impossible to count. Coyotes have been a distinct species for 2 million years. In Native American stories, coyotes are intelligent and tricky.
When explorers moved west, they found coyotes in sagebrush country and prairies; wolves controlled the forests. But forests were turned into farm land and wolves eradicated, and coyotes expanded their range. They now have the most extensive natural range of any terrestrial mammal in America.
Active eradication programs in the 1930s and 1940s failed because coyotes’ birthrates increased, as if an instinct drove more females to breed and birth larger litters.
Coyotes are omnivores, eating vegetation as well as animals.
“They’re opportunistic. If they come around the corner and there’s a domestic cat, they take it; if it’s a rabbit around the next corner, they take it,” Martorello said.
Missing cats are the crux of most complaints about coyotes, even though cat owners bear part of the responsibility.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.