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As Spokane’s urban coyotes thrive, some pet owners grow worried

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 12, 2018, 9:08 a.m.

A coyote follows cat tracks through the backyard of a Spokane home near Lincoln Park on December 13, 2017. (Kaari Davies / Courtesy)
A coyote follows cat tracks through the backyard of a Spokane home near Lincoln Park on December 13, 2017. (Kaari Davies / Courtesy)

They’re all around, although many never know.

Coyotes. The wild canines thrive in many of the United States’ largest cities – including Chicago, New York and Portland.

It’s no different in Spokane.

“They’re pretty prolific,” Kile Westerman said. “They’re hardy animals. They can eke out an existence just about anywhere.”

Westerman is a wildlife conflict specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Although coyotes pose little risk to humans, Westerman said, with spring denning season upcoming (early spring) it’s good to “give them (coyotes) a wide berth” especially if you’re with pets.

Some worried pet owners wish Fish and Game would control coyote populations, either through killing or relocation. The department does neither, Westerman said.

Instead, he urged pet owners to keep animals inside, especially when living on the rural/urban edge. There is no reliable estimate of how many coyotes live in and around Spokane.

“They’re around,” he said. “They’re probably always going to be around to some extent.”

Kaari Davies / The Spokesman-Review

Coyotes have thrived in many of the U.S.’s largest cities – including Chicago, New York and Portland. It’s no different in Spokane. In this video a coyote chases a deer through a South Hill neighborhood, near Lincoln Park on May 10, 2016.

Zuriel van Belle has has been studying Portland’s thriving urban coyote population since 2010. She’s the director of the Portland Coyote Project. Last year, there were 2,482 reports of coyote sightings in Portland. The robust population is less a reflection on Portland and more a statement about the animal’s adaptability.

“Coyotes are just incredibly opportunistic,” she said. “We’ve seen them expand their range where wolves have declined.”

Van Belle is a proponent of coyote-human coexistence and said she loves the animals that many despise. She encouraged people to remove potential food sources, not feed coyotes, keep pets inside and to “haze” them.

“If you see a coyote, even if you love them, you’ve got to just yell at them,” she said. “Just sort of teach them … that humans and coyotes are best living separate.”

While coyotes will eat cats and other pets, it’s not as common as many think.

Diet studies conducted in Chicago indicate that urban coyotes eat basically the same food as their rural brethren – primarily rodents. Cats make up between 1 and 2 percent of a coyote’s diet, according to a 2002 study of Chicago coyotes.

Forty-two percent of those coyotes’ diets were rodents. The second-most common food was white tail deer at 22 percent.

Westerman said coyotes help control the deer population in Spokane, although they’re still “not a good thing to have in city limits.” While hunting coyotes, or anything, within city limits is illegal, in rural areas there is no hunting season, or limit, to hunting coyotes. In the past hunters have been credited as the most effective means of coyote suppression.

Completely removing coyotes from an urban area would be difficult, if even possible.

“Even if we wanted to get rid of coyotes from the city it would be very, very difficult if not impossible,” van Belle said. “They’re finding these hidden forgotten places right in the middle of the city.”

But for wary pet owners watching coyotes stalk through their backyard, diet studies, ecological considerations and the difficulty of removal are scant comfort.

Kaari Davies / The Spokesman-Review

In this video a coyote follows cat tracks through the backyard of a Spokane home near Lincoln Park on December 13, 2017.

“Well, for people who say keep your pets in, ‘Yeah, well, I’m a taxpayer and I pay for a safe community and for me that means my pets,’ ” Kaari Davies said.

Davies lives on the South Hill, just below Lincoln Park. Using motion-activated cameras she’s documented a number of coyotes in her backyard. Recently, she’s averaged one or two sightings a night.

Davies lives in her childhood home. When her parents built the home in the 1960s there were no coyotes, she said. The family had numerous pets, all roaming freely in the backyard.

Now, Davies said, she keeps her cat inside at all time. In the four years since Davies moved from Woodinville, Washington, she said her cat has gained weight.

“My tabby, when he got here he was probably 14 pounds and now he’s approaching 20 because he can’t just go outside anymore,” she said.

The complexity of the situation is not lost on Davies.

“It’s a tough situation and I understand it’s hard to control coyotes,” she said. “But at some point my own impression is there is no will to control the coyote population here in Spokane.”

She worries that if left unchecked Spokane’s coyotes will become more aggressive and brazen, like in California.

In 2015, there were four attacks on children in the Irvine, California, area, according to an ABC News report. In March 2017, the Orange County Register reported that coyote attacks were on the rise. In 2016, there were 10 reported coyote bites, compared to three in 2012.

There have been documented problems in Spokane. In 2012, denning coyotes on the South Hill bluff trails sent several unleashed dogs to the vet for stitches.

“As a community, we would not tolerate pit bulls loose in our yards killing our cats and dogs, and so it baffles me that somehow the city is tolerating coyotes running loose and unchecked,” Davies said.

While Fish and Game and the city may not kill or remove coyotes, there are third-party services that will trap the animals, Westerman said. A list of licensed operators is available on WDFW’s website.

But Westerman maintains the easiest way to avoid conflict with the predatory animal is through deterrence. Don’t provide a food source, secure garbage, leave animals inside, especially at night, and if you do see a coyote scare it off. For a more detailed list of recommendations from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife visit: wdfw.wa.gov/living/coyotes.html.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly labeled the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It also misspelled Kile Westerman’s last name on second reference. The story has been corrected.


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