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Island coyotes discussed at City Council meeting

By Staff | May 10, 2017

Three coyotes were captured in one image on Dec. 31, 2016, at Sanibel Gardens. Courtesy of the City of Sanibel

A University of Georgia study revealed that there are a minimum of 27 unique coyotes occupying the island.

Holly Milbrandt, an environmental biologist with the city, provided a coyote update during last week’s City Council meeting, which was a followup from a May 2015 presentation.

The movement of coyotes into the southeastern United States has been occurring over the last several decades. In the 1980s it became prevalent in Florida, mostly in the Florida Panhandle. Coyotes are now accounted for in all 67 counties of Florida.

In 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received more calls from Southwest Florida than anywhere else in the state in regards to coyotes, Milbrandt reported. Out of the 223 coyote calls from Southwest Florida, 27 of those came from Lee County.

“It wasn’t all that surprising that at some point coyotes would arrive here and be documented on Sanibel,” she said.

Images captured of coyotes at Community Park, Gulfside City Park, Pond Apply Park and Sanibel Gardens. Courtesy of the City of Sanibel

The first coyote spotted on Sanibel was at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in February 2011. Milbrandt said at that time the city took on a number of efforts to keep the public aware of the coyote sightings and encouraging people to contact the Sanibel Police Department when spotted.

In February 2014 a Coyote Working Group formed to discuss coyotes, which involved the City of Sanibel, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife.

Through the meetings, the group found the rate of sea turtle nest depredation concerning in relationships to coyotes. Milbrandt said they started to see increases from 2012 to 2014. In 2014, 33 percent of nest depredation was caused by coyotes.

In 2015, the depredation decreased to 18 percent. In 2016 it decreased again to 10 percent.

Some of the areas that may have contributed to the reduction includes screening the sea turtle nests, as well as the nesting loggerhead nighttime tagging project.

Milbrandt said 64 percent of nests were screened in 2015, and 88 percent were screened in 2016. Out of those screened nests, she said 6 percent were depredated.

In September 2015, the City Council approved funding for a coyote scat survey and DNA analysis with the University of Georgia. Milbrandt said the objective was to determine a population estimate and relatedness of coyotes on Sanibel.

The transects utilized to collect coyote scat were from the Lighthouse to the Sanctuary Golf Club. The University of Georgia identified a minimum of 27 unique coyotes occupying Sanibel from December 2015 though January 2016. The population size was estimated at 34 individuals, or an interval of 29 to 67 coyotes. The density estimate was .38 individuals per square kilometer.

Milbrandt said the majority of the coyotes that were genotyped were found at the Sanctuary Golf Club.

Wildlife camera data was also provided during the meeting, which were installed in either 2014, or 2015. The cameras are located at Community Park, Gulfside City Park, Pond Apple Park and Sanibel Gardens.

In 2015, the largest coyote sightings took place at Pond Apple Park with 60. The largest sight seeings in 2016, was at Sanibel Gardens with more than 50.

The average days between coyote sightings was 20.3 at Community Park in 2016, 13.0 at Gulfside City Park, 7.3 at Pond Apple Park and 6.4 at Sanibel Gardens.

Although the number of coyotes captured with each image is mostly one, three in one image was captured Dec. 31, 2016, at Sanibel Gardens.

The majority of the sightings take place from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The presentation also provided how many reports were called into the Sanibel Police Department for coyote sightings. In 2015, 70 reports had been made, the most out of every year since 2011.

Individuals are encouraged to still call the department at (239) 472-3111. Milbrandt said the reports they have received have been folks reporting presumed coyote interactions with pets.

Milbrandt provided some management approaches that could be considered by the City of Sanibel. Those approaches include widespread culling, selective culling and sterilization.

She said the widespread culling is unlikely to be effective because the source of coyotes is currently unknown. Milbrandt said there is a high probability that they have an ingress and egress coyote community from other parts of the islands and mainlands. In addition, she said coyotes exhibit compensatory reproduction in response to human-induced population reduction by breeding at an earlier age, or increasing litter size.

Selective culling Milbrandt said is the culling of specific individuals, or groups identified to be the source of a particular problem, or to look at a particular area and remove individuals from specific locations. She said there is little data on the effectiveness of this kind of method.

The last option, sterilization, Milbrandt said can help maintain a population because it could prevent new litters and reverse pack-level population growth.

Bob Holder, Sanibel resident, said if the city does not take aggressive action on the coyote population this problem is going to get worse and pop up in different places.

Mayor Kevin Ruane said no matter what course they would like to go through, the necessary ingredient is funding. He said funding will help them narrow down their options and have a better understanding of what opportunities they can pursue.

“We are four months away from adopting our budget, so we have to at least understand what our options are,” Ruane said. “I certainly need to understand what options we do have, if any, because I would like to have that in the budget process.”

Natural Resource Director James Evans said his recommendation is to seek funds for a limited sterilization program, so they can get more information and get a better idea of what’s happening. He said the estimates that they have received so far from the University of Florida and the University of Georgia are north of $100,000.

“They aren’t inexpensive programs, so that is something we need to consider. Right now we have done some limited looking at what kinds of funds are available out there. The federal and state level there has been a lot of cuts in environmental funding for programs such as this. It is going to be a challenge to get some funding,” Evans said.

At the end of Milbrant’s presentation, she said the working group has recommended that they continue to monitor coyote impacts on sea turtles, as well as implement sea turtle nest protection measures; expand wildlife camera monitoring efforts; continue public education and track sight seeings; investigate methods and funding opportunities for additional protection of sea turtle and shorebird nests and evaluate feasibility and funding options to conduct trapping and GPS collaring of coyotes on the island.