Wildlife shelter educates public on living with coyotes

of the GatewayFebruary 27, 2014 

Lynne Weber, the operations manager and licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist for West Sound Wildlife Shelter, brought Remington, a turkey vulture, to the coyote seminar at the Gig Harbor Civic Center on Wednesday night.

JON MANLEY — Gateway photo

The City of Gig Harbor and the West Sound Wildlife Shelter partnered for an informative seminar Wednesday night on how to coexist peacefully with coyotes in the community. The event, held at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, was the result of the efforts of council member Tim Payne, who reached out to the shelter. Lisa Horn, the Executive Director, and Lynne Weber, the operations manager and licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist, put on the seminar.

The group brought an opossum for people to see up close, but the real treat was hidden in a cage. Once the event started, Weber opened the cage, and out popped a vulture named Remington. Remington, or, “Remy,” is unable to be reintroduced to the wild, so she tours with the group as part of their educational outreach program.

The shelter, which is stationed on Bainbridge Island, is interested in opening a satellite shelter in Gig Harbor, where people can bring animals in need of attention. The shelter would not be a full care center, but rather an intake center. The animals would subsequently be transferred to the main shelter on Bainbridge Island.

“The goal is to find a place,” Horn said. “We're working with Tim (Payne) and Terry (Lee, the executive director of PenMet Parks). We would have to build a volunteer base.”

Horn could not provide a timeline for when the proposed opening might occur, but said she hopes it will be “sooner, rather than later.”

Payne said the coyote issue came to his attention purely out of observation.

“As I was involved in discussions with Lisa, I mentioned we had a couple different packs of coyotes in urban, downtown area, which is a little bit unusual in urban setting,” Payne said. “In the past couple years, it seems that the pack has grown. We're having a lot more interactions with them.”

Horn launched into a story of how coyotes were eating her chickens. As a result, she moved the chickens to a new location. Throughout the seminar, both Horn and Weber spoke about ways to reduce the presence of coyotes around your property.

“The moral of the story is we need to find ways to reduce their wanting to be with us,” Horn said. “They don't want to be with us. One fallacy is there's more coyotes here than ever. You have more buildings and development. Their goal is to not be seen. As we move in, feed birds, let our cats and dogs outside, dig up their environment, they have no choice but to end up in yards.”

Weber said that there have been no known coyote attacks on humans in the state of Washington.

“They're more afraid of you than you are of them,” she said.

Still, coyotes can be frightening when lingering around the yard. Lynne said there are certain steps to take to reduce their desire to linger there. One of the biggest draws for coyotes is fruit.

“Coyotes adore apples,” Lynne said. “Everyone is putting up apple trees and peach trees. That will draw them in.”

Compost, she said, also attracts coyotes, since compost piles attract mice and other rodents. Coyotes prey on rodents as a main staple of their diet. Their diet of rodents is actually a reason why a lot of people don't mind having coyotes around.

“In areas where people have destroyed coyotes, there is an increase in rats and mice,” Lynne said. “When we get rid of them, those things come into our house. Coyotes are excellent rodent control.”

Even so, there are steps to make sure the coyotes don't get too comfortable. While cats make up a very small portion of the coyote's diet—about 1 percent—Lynne still recommended keeping cats inside the house, or at least inside a fenced area. Coyotes are unlikely to attack big dogs, but have to be known to hunt smaller dogs. If you feel a coyote is getting too comfortable in your yard, it's best to send it a message, Lynne said.

“If you see one, spray them with a hose,” Lynne said. “If you don't have a hose, take a coke can, throw some stones in it, duct tape it, and whip the can at him. It's gonna make all kinds of noise. This scares them away. He's still patrolling, but he's not gonna come in your yard.”

If all else fails, throw something at them.

“Throw a pan at him, I'm not kidding,” Lynne said. “He's gonna learn this is not an acceptable place to come.”

Lynne said coyotes don't pose a threat to children, but even so, it's wise to keep an eye on your kids if they're in an area with coyotes. While many people hunt coyotes in order to eliminate them from the area (it is legal to hunt coyotes in Washington), this method often produces undesirable results. The coyotes, when hunted, often have larger litters to make up for their decreased numbers. Hunting coyotes can often lead to an increase in their population.

Horn also advised against poisoning the coyotes, as the poison’s effects are often far reaching. When the coyote is poisoned and dies, birds, such as bald eagles, may feed on the carcass and become poisoned as well. Poisoning animals has a damaging effect on the delicate ecosystem.  

Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at jon.manley@gateline.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.

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