Here’s a report Kevin Simpson that’s running in The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole thing, here’s an excerpt:
A recent rash of attacks on dogs in the Parker area reignited a long-running conversation about one of the most resilient predators in North America
Wildlife experts say the situation reflects a recurring phenomenon, a cycle of coyote activity that ebbs and flows throughout the so-called urban-wildland interface — and now, well into the urban core — literally from Los Angeles to New York.
“It does seem periodic,” says Kristin Cannon, an area wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We’ll go several years where there’s no issues, or very minor ones. Coyotes are pretty ubiquitous anymore, but as far as conflicts with people, and with pets, that seems to flare up every few years one place or another. Because conflicts are so common, it’s hard to quantify.”
Many communities along the Front Range have an official coyote management plan, which largely defines levels of interaction with the animals and prescribes at what point, and how, action may be taken to mitigate problems.
Attacks on humans tend to be the tipping point. And while lethal removal looms as an available tool, the emphasis remains on education and adapting human behavior. That strategy reflects the reality that coyotes, despite historical campaigns to eradicate them, have been a fixture on the continent for upwards of five million years.
And they’re not going away. As longtime coyote researcher Dan Flores, author of “Coyote America,” succinctly puts it: “Resistance is futile.”
In many Native American cultures, the coyote appears as an avatar for humans. Tales handed down through generations employ it as a four-legged metaphor, precisely for the way it holds a mirror to human behavior. Native to North America, the coyote’s howl, Flores contends, is “our original national anthem.”
By the 1920s, even Scientific American inserted the coyote as the shifty trickster-villain in a contemporary political allegory in which it argued that good Americans, if they spy one, should shoot it on sight for patriotic reasons — because the coyote is “the original Bolshevik.”
Much disdain for coyotes originated within the livestock industry, whose assets run afoul of predatory animals. And that, Flores says, led to an agency of the federal government, then called the Bureau of Biological Survey, seizing on the opportunity to brand itself, in the early 20th century, as the antidote to predation. It proved an effective strategy to guarantee congressional funding.
Colorado played a pivotal role in the extermination efforts that followed. The Eradication Methods Laboratory, which designed and manufactured the means to kill massive numbers of mostly wolves and coyotes, began producing strychnine in Albuquerque. But in 1921 it moved operations to Denver — where, Flores writes in “Coyote America,” “it would go on to perfect an amazing witch’s brew of ever more efficient, ever deadlier pesticides.”
Even the eradication campaign came with what Flores calls a “concerted PR effort” to demonize coyotes. Powered by a series of pre-packaged stories from the Biological Survey, he says, major publications all across the country ran fictionalized accounts that cast certain nuisance animals, including the coyote, as Al Capone-style gangsters. Those who would destroy them were cast as heroic G-men.
Wolves were essentially wiped out in the U.S. by 1925. But coyotes, despite lacking a public relations campaign of their own, more than survived attempts to snuff them. They flourished. So what did they have that wolves didn’t?
In simple terms, coyotes can live in groups, when it’s advantageous. But when it’s not, they can disperse into pairs or even solitary individuals and scatter across the landscape, making them difficult to locate and eliminate.
“Wolves are pure pack animals, and hunters discovered if you can track one of the animals in a pack, you can use its scent to prepare bait and get every one in the pack,” Flores says. “But coyotes don’t have the same pack adhesion. That’s the single advantage over wolves that allowed them to survive.”
So the eradication strategy backfired. Not only did the campaign not wipe them out, but it triggered colonization. When coyotes sense their numbers dwindling, the number of pups in their litters grows larger — a phenomenon called “compensatory breeding.”
Coyotes migrated all over the country and grew comfortable in urban areas, where they face no natural predators, no hunters shooting at them from helicopters, no leg traps or poisons. Plus, urban areas attract plenty of smaller animals, like rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice, that provide a ready food source…
For all the talk of how human development has encroached on animals’ natural habitat, the coyote has turned the tables. A recent story in National Geographic reported that coyotes actually have increased their range by 40% since the 1950s, can be found in every state except Hawaii, have become established in Central America and are expected to appear soon in South America…
Stewart Breck, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center based in Fort Collins, also specializes in urban coyotes. He has a good idea what’s going on. In fact, he sees two things.
First, urban coyotes tend to be bolder and “more explorative,” he notes. Breck drew this conclusion from research comparing coyotes in Denver to those that inhabit rural areas, which confirmed the behavior pattern. Similar studies have been repeated in many areas around the country.
Second, researchers have identified certain “problem individuals” that appear periodically in urban environments. These bad actors tend to be responsible for most of the unusual conflicts with people.