The other night we were awaken by the distinctive high-pitched yipping of a coyote in the street outside our window. We all climbed out of bed and went to the window to see what was there, including our lovable lab-shepherd mix who was probably wondering how come that “dog” gets to have fun roaming around the neighborhood at night while she is stuck inside.
What part of the mountains do we live in, you ask? The answer is we don’t. We live about two miles from downtown Denver in a very urban neighborhood. We chose the neighborhood, in part, because of its friendliness, accessibility and proximity to restaurants (food) and nightlife. Apparently, these are the same reasons the coyote chose this neighborhood as well.
The Chain of Events Causing the Problem
Though prairie natives, coyotes are now known to inhabit most major cities throughout North America. Accessible areas of shelter and sources of food are plentiful, and urban dwellers tend to do little to effectively ward off the wild animals. In many cases the coyotes are actually invited by people who unknowingly provide food for them. The feeding of coyotes is the biggest culprit in bringing them into the area, encouraging them to stay, and in causing the resulting issues with the biting of humans and the periodic disappearance of household pets. The typical chain of events is an easy one to follow. It starts with providing a food source. That, in turn, makes coyotes equate human interaction with feeding. The coyote then becomes less skittish of human interaction and more likely to enter the human habitat, inevitably resulting in contact with humans and household pets. Such contact can result in biting incidents and great harm to pets. The question is how to effectively break the chain.
According to a recent City Council report from the City and County of Denver, neither the killing nor relocation of coyotes is an effective technique. In fact, killing populations only opens up more territory for other coyotes who then reproduce faster to fill up such territory. The more effective means of addressing the problem is to practice “exclusion techniques”.
The idea behind these techniques is to reduce the attractants that bring in coyotes (i.e. food sources) and to discourage coyotes from returning to undesirable locations. Essentially, the effort is to “teach” the coyotes to stay away. The City Council report states that following actions are recommended, and must be performed on a consistent basis to see positive results:
- If you see a coyote in your neighborhood, scare it away by yelling, waving arms, spraying it with a hose, or throwing something at it
- Never ignore the coyote or turn your back on it
- Take a protective stance if a child or pet is near you, get between you and the child or pet
- Remove sources of food. Trash and compost should be covered. Pick up fallen fruit. Clean out under bird feeders.
- Call 311 to report any wild animal feeding from a dumpster
- Do not let cats or dogs run free in the neighborhood, especially at night
- Maintain fences so that it is hard for animals to get under or over the fence
- Install motion sensors on outdoor lighting
- Report any and all coyote attacks to local officials
In Your Community
As with most community-wide issues, education is the key to making owners aware of potential problems and options for addressing same. We recommend including the foregoing information on your association’s website, and/or addressing it in one, or a series of, newsletter articles. The sharing of information regarding the dangers of wildlife interaction is the most reasonable course of action for an association to take, and likely the one that exposes the association to the least amount of liability. If policies are put in place to address wildlife issues in the community, it is of utmost importance that such policies be followed and upheld.
As pointed out in the January/February issue of Common Ground magazine, while the legal doctrine of farae nuturae generally holds that associations are not responsible for the behavior of indigenous wildlife, the association can get in trouble for failing to follow its own policies. This concept was recently illustrated in a case out of Georgia where a family sued the association for failing to remove an 8 foot alligator from behind a woman’s house. The Association’s existing policy was that all gators over 7 feet long were to be removed. The Association in this case failed to do so. If the association did not have such a policy in place, and instead simply did its best to educate its owners of the dangers and encourage them to contact local animal control authorities, the case would likely have turned in favor of the association.
The Denver Parks & Recreation, Wildlife Division, is starting a new training program for volunteers. Techniques for identifying acceptable levels of coyote activity and for instilling coyotes with a healthy fear of humans will be taught. City Naturalist, Kelly Uhing can be contacted for more information at [email protected] or (720) 913-0659. Likewise, the City and County of Denver recommends that you report coyote activity to Ashley DeLaup at Denver Parks & Recreation: [email protected].