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Coyotes on our islands

By Staff | Jan 7, 2020

Ryan Orgera

Over the past months we have increasingly heard about coyotes on our islands. The safety of our residents is a high priority of mine, but so is the integrity of our natural habitats – these are not mutually exclusive. We have coyotes and ostensibly will always have them. While it seems logical that because Sanibel and Captiva are islands that we should be able to control the coyote population easily. This is a much more complex reality than some would suggest.

Culling is a popular rhetorical response to human-coyote interactions. Hundreds of communities around the country have gone down that path, they have almost without exception proven to be tremendous wastes of public funds. Indiscriminate coyote killing does not work. Coyotes are highly adaptive animals, when their populations are threatened they biologically switch to what is referred to as compensatory reproduction. This means that females enter a highly fecund state where they produce much larger litters of pups. So, as communities remove coyotes through culling programs they discover their efforts foiled by coyote population booms.

Additionally, some initial research suggests that coyotes arrive by swimming across Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay, as well as by simply walking across the causeway. Coyotes are among the most successful mammal species in Florida, they thrive in wild and urban settings. No matter how you cut it, coyotes are here to stay. There is no effective eradication program – and should we eradicate those that live on our islands, they will simply be replaced by off-island kin.

So, what is the answer? We must finish Sanibel’s Coyote Management Plan. Our city’s Natural Resources Department is doing just that; working with all their island partners: the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and others. Without a proven, scientifically anchored plan, endorsed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we will never successfully understand, or effect change in human-coyote interactions.

Public funds are scarce, especially those for environmental management. When we act on policy from a place of fear rather than developing a meaningful, scientifically sound plan, we are not being the best stewards of our public dollars. There is a simple fact: culling coyotes without a management plan in place is a false trail. If our community chooses to move in that direction, we will be collectively opting to forge ahead with a plan that we know to be ineffective, costing our communities tens of thousands of dollars.

I would urge our residents to support the completion of the City of Sanibel’s Coyote Management Plan, as well as increased funding for population dynamics studies of our coyotes. SCCF, along with our partners, is committed to educating our communities on how to best live with coyotes. A few simple behaviors can reduce the risk of negative human-coyote interactions:

– Always use a leash when walking dogs, especially smaller animals, and especially at night. If you see a coyote while walking your pet, bring him/her close to you to appear larger.

– Simply seeing a coyote, day or night, is not necessarily reason for concern. If you feel uncomfortable you should “haze” the coyote. Hazing is simply scaring a coyote by yelling and waving your arms or waving a stick, golf club, cane, et cetera. Yes, you will look silly, but you are doing what wildlife managers know is a best practice. Coyotes are inquisitive critters, so scaring them when they are too close to you is best for our community and coyotes alike.

– Never feed a coyote. They are wild animals. Feeding a coyote is equally bad for the animal as it is for your neighbors.

Cane toads, for instance, are far more dangerous than coyotes to our pets. This highly invasive, successful species kills and injures pets (and sometimes humans) at an alarming rate through its toxins. Why are we so focused on coyotes when we could be investing in fighting much more dangerous species, like cane toads? Also, coyotes play important roles in our ecosystems, including controlling marsh rabbit populations.

No matter what you hear or maybe even believe, we are not experiencing anything unique or even of particular concern, according to the FWC. Let’s not be hasty, let’s be careful and effective; and respect nature and the safety of our residents. We really can do both.

Ryan Orgera is the chief executive officer of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Founded in 1967, the SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed.