June 4, 2009 in Outdoors

There’s nothing wily about feeding coyotes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Despite the aura of Washington State University, a few people in Pullman have managed to remain ignorant about wildlife.

We’re talking about people with soft hearts and brains of mush.

State Fish and Wildlife Department staffers report that coyotes chose this handsome Palouse community this year as a good place to raise a family.

The attraction may well have been the colony of feral cats that some do-gooders have been feeding against advice from credible wildlife experts or bird conserva- tionists, but that’s another dumb story.

Sometime after giving birth to the pups, the female coyote apparently disappeared. This would not be unexpected. Town critters are susceptible to all sorts of life-threatening things. Wile E. Coyote always gets up after being flattened by a truck tire. Real coyotes are roadkill.

Somebody felt sorry for the apparently parentless pups and began leaving food out for them.

No sane person relishes the idea of a baby starving to death. But human compassion can be a sorry trait when it’s disconnected from good sense.

Feeding just about any kind of wild animal is among the most heartless things a human can do. In most cases it’s a sentence of death.

During two months in 2006, one woman, a toddler, a 4-year-old boy and a poodle on a leash were bitten by coyotes during separate incidents in Bellevue.

It’s safe to say the families of the victims, who required rabies vaccinations, probably weren’t fond of the people who reportedly made food available for coyotes either intentionally or through carelessness.

Of course, the coyote had to be shot.

Last month, during a sunrise exercise outing, my English setter, Dickens, locked staunchly on point by some rubble just 100 yards behind our neighborhood on the south edge of Spokane.

It’s not unusual for Dickens to go on point, since quail are common. But when I walked down to flush the bird, I saw a little brown fur ball just 10 yards ahead of Dickens’ nose. I thought it was a marmot at first, but it was an eyes-open, wobbly-legged coyote pup, probably about three weeks old.

I thanked God for a having a pointer instead of a flusher as I came up to Dickens and heard growling from under the rubble. The adult coyote in the den was clearly telling us to get away.

We have small children in our neighborhood. I couldn’t leave it be.

After taking the dog back to the house, I returned with a bat for protection and began disturbing the den site.

The pup was undeniably cute. It looked at me with a wrinkled forehead and sad puppy eyes that seemed to beg for cuddling and a few spoonfuls of dog food.

However, when I got within a step, the pup sat up, bared its teeth and hissed in a wild hard-wired reaction to danger. That was a good sign the pup still had what it takes to be a good coyote, but no guarantee it would be a good neighbor.

I used the bat to nudge the little fur ball into a critter hole that may or may not have been connected to the den.

Part growl, part howl, the most savage and terrifying sound I’ve ever heard in the wild resonated from the adult that was under the rubble two feet below my running shoes.

I rolled a few rocks in the various holes, keeping the old Louisville Slugger ready, just in case. The coyote went quiet. I left.

As expected, the coyote and its pups were gone within two days. Coyotes, badgers and other critters are known to pack their babies long distances to safer quarters when threatened.

I hope they live a normal coyote life, fearing people and devouring rodents in the forest and farmlands outside of town.

This scenario may have worked in Pullman if someone had taken action as soon as the coyote family set up housekeeping. By the time the pups were born and the parents disappeared, the only responsible option was to call a state wildlife officer and have the pups euthanized.

Humans make more mistakes than successes when they mess with nature’s nursery. Wildlife couldn’t have evolved so efficiently if humans had stepped in to prevent every hard-luck case.

How do you think ravens make a living?

I’m not fantasizing that this column will educate the selfish and short-sighted people who put out bowls of dog food outside the Pullman coyote den.

That possibility was dashed when I learned that one of them also put out a pillow for the coyotes to make them comfy.

Wildlife officers have no choice but to dispose of the pups.

Go sleep on that.

Contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508, or e-mail to richl@spokesman.com.

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