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For the good of Sanibel

By Staff | Jun 7, 2017

To the editor:

A few excerpts from Sanibel’s vision statement, which the City Council is elected to uphold. “Sanibel is and shall remain a barrier island sanctuary, one in which a diverse population lives in harmony with the island’s wildlife and natural habitats. The community’s vision of its future is hierarchy; one in which the dominant principle is Sanibel’s sanctuary quality. Sanibel shall be developed as a community only to the extent to which it retains and embraces this quality of sanctuary.”

Coyotes. Some folks seem to be sensationalizing this issue (also). Here are some actual facts. Florida FWC officially considers coyotes as a native, or naturalized species (The Coyote in Florida, FWC, 2007). They are in the Florida fossil record from 2 million to 12,000 years ago – possibly forced out by climate change and the Red Wolf (which humans have since eliminated). They are currently repopulating areas in which they lived years ago.

Gut content analysis on coyotes in Florida show they mainly prey on rodents, raccoons, small mammals, which have not had major predators for years (Main 2014, Presentation). Coyotes do kill stray cats and small dogs when they wander free. FWC considers stray cats a major negative impact to native and endangered species, while they consider coyotes as neutral (FWC 2007). Sanibel has a “strict” leash law for pets and no coyote has attacked a pet while on leash in Florida (FWC presentation 2014). Coyotes avoid people.

Coyotes also eat small birds and sea turtle hatchlings. Natural predators have always done this, way before humans started endangering sea turtles. Coyotes eat raccoons, which were once the major source of sea turtle nest predation on Sanibel. When coyotes are on the beach raccoons are not (Butts, USDA APHIS 2014, personal communication). Last year, measures taken by sea turtle volunteers reduced nest predation to 10 percent even with the presence of coyotes (Island Reporter May 2017).

Coyotes are in every county and part of the state. They hold and defend territories. When a new territory opens up – a new group will move in – from over the causeway or swimming. They form a family group – they do not form “packs.” Sighting of over two animals is usually a mother, father and young. One animal can sound like many when howling.

Methods to eliminate coyotes from an area include shooting, trapping, and poison. This would be difficult on Sanibel. If we eliminated the current population, we will get recruits from the mainland – eradication techniques would have to be a continuous effort. This means money, accidents, other wildlife/folks caught in crossfire. Will the future headline read: “Sanibel, the “sanctuary island” community tries to eliminate one of its native species?”

Let’s learn to live with the natural environment here on Sanibel at least, if not everywhere else we have invaded. Let us uphold our community’s vision statement, which is constantly under attack. The community is filled with folks putting personal gain before protection of the sanctuary home in which we and the true native Sanibel islanders (wildlife) live. Learn and live and enjoy the coyotes and what they bring to us – pest control and a model to learn from – as the native human Americans we also eliminated did.

Mark Thompson

year round resident