Council voices support for future coyote management plan
At its monthly meeting, the Sanibel City Council directed staff to draft a coyote management and education plan for the city for consideration after hearing a presentation from state wildlife officials.
On Aug. 6, Natural Resources Department Director James Evans reported to the council that the Sanibel Coyote Working Group had recently met as a result of a resident’s report to police last month about an aggressive coyote encounter. Comprised of the city, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, it was established in 2014 as a way to provide coordinated monitoring and management of the coyotes.
Evans explained that the group communicated with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and learned of a plan the FWC had helped draft for the city of Atlantic Beach.
“The Coyote Working Group thinks it’s really a model that we can use here,” he said.
The group invited FWC Senior Wildlife Assistance Biologist Angeline Scotten, with Conservation Wildlife Impact Management for South Florida’s Division of Habitat and Species, to come and speak.
Scotten began her presentation before council by providing some background about coyotes. She explained that as wolves were pushed out of Florida, coyotes replaced them on the food chain.
“They’re defined as naturalized,” Scotten said. “Not exactly native, not exactly invasive.”
Coyotes are omnivorous, meaning they will eat plants, animals and even insects. As average adult coyote in Florida weighs between 25 pounds and 40 pounds. Their home range is about 15 square miles in rural areas and three square miles in urban areas. They mate in the winter and have spring pups.
Coyotes average six to 12 pups per litter – cared for by both parents – and are monogamous.
“If you see two (adults) together, you are seeing a family unit,” Scotten said.
She reported that coyote sightings are common in the state, so the FWC requests that the public only contact the agency if they are having an issue or a problem with one – not to report a sighting.
As of the meeting, the FWC had received just over 100 calls about coyotes in Lee County, of which three were from Sanibel. One was about an injured coyote on the Causeway, one person had questions about the species, and the third person wanted to know how to keep them away from their chickens.
“Coyotes are not state or federally protected,” Scotten said. “Property owners can remove them.”
However, they must be removed by invoking one of two rules and each has their own set of criteria. One is the nuisance rule, which involves a coyote that is about to cause or has caused property damage or is a threat to public safety, and the other is the furbearer rule – recreational hunting and trapping.
“Coyotes are notoriously difficult to capture, even for professional trappers,” she said.
Scotten explained that eradication efforts like those that were used successfully on wolves were tried on Florida’s coyotes, but the species ended up increasing its numbers and expanding its territory.
Because eradication will not work, she offered some tips on how to handle them:
– Do not feed coyotes; they will learn to associate people with food.
– Keep garbage secured in a garage or secure structure.
– Pick up pet food, fallen fruit and bird seed; all are attractive food options to coyotes.
– Keep cats indoors; coyotes are notorious for taking cats.
– Keep dogs on a short lease (6 feet or less) and keep an eye on them when they are in the yard; typically when small dogs are taken, it is because they have been left unattended.
If someone encounters a coyote when taking a small dog for a walk, they should pick up the dog and hold it securely to their body. The person should then begin hazing tactics to scare off the animal.
“This is basically establishing some human dominance,” Scotten said. “They should yield to us.”
In fact, anyone who encounters a coyote should use hazing to help establish boundaries.
“We strongly recommend that people scare coyotes when they see them,” she said.
Hazing tactics can include setting off a car alarm, yelling, waving one’s arms in the air while making noises, opening and closing an umbrella at them or using a “coyote shaker” – made by putting pebbles or coins in an empty drink container. Switch up the tactics so repeat coyotes do not grow accustomed.
A video on hazing is available at myfwc.com/conservation/you-conserve/wildlife/coyotes.
Scotten also touched on Atlantic Beach’s Coyote Management and Education Plan, which the city launched this year. She explained that the plan was tailored for that city, however, Scotten pointed out Sanibel’s working group, trail cameras and data from studies and noted that it can likely draft one.
She added that the FWC would work with Sanibel on a plan, like it did for Atlantic Beach.
Scotten also answered questions from the council, reporting that it is normal for coyotes to be out during the day depending on food availability, human pressure and presence of pups; that aggression toward humans is “extremely rare,” with only three instances reported to the FWC and the coyote in each testing positive for rabies; and that coyotes will chase you if you run, just like any dog might.
Natural Resources Deputy Director Holly Milbrandt also spoke before council.
She reported that the city had cameras at four parks and added a fifth one a few years ago. Milbrandt added that coyotes are mostly spotted between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the Sanibel Gardens camera.
The majority of the images captured are of single coyotes.
“The majority of the reports we get are sightings,” she said, noting that there are few interactions.
Past scat studies conducted indicate that there could be 34 to 67 individual coyotes on-island.
Milbrandt added that the total is more likely on the lower end than higher end.
After some discussion, the council members directed staff to come back to the table with some potential next steps – a draft management plan – for the city’s future approach to coyotes.