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Parting Shots: Recent coyote sightings require extra precaution
1/29/2014 10:04:29 AM

By Brian Asmus
Splash Guest Column

Numerous calls flooded the Liberty Lake Police Department in January regarding coyote sightings along the golf courses adjacent to residential areas. In response, the LLPD put together the following guidelines, facts and safety tips regarding coyotes.

Food and feeding habits
Coyotes are opportunists, both as hunters and scavengers.  They eat any small animal they can capture. They typically eat wild species, but they are known to eat pet food, garbage, garden crops, livestock, poultry and pets (mostly cats).

Coyotes occasionally kill domestic dogs that they consider territorial intruders.

Most hunting activity takes place at night.

Viewing coyotes
Coyotes are extremely wary. Their sense of smell is remarkable, and their sense of sight and hearing are exceptionally well developed. Sightings of coyotes are most likely during the hours just after sunset and before sunrise.

Never approach an occupied coyote den. A mother's protective instincts can make her dangerous if she has young in or nearby the den.

Calls
Coyotes create a variety of vocalizations. Woofs and growls are short-distance threat and alarm calls; barks and bark-howls are long-distance threat and alarm calls; whines are used in greetings; lone and group howls are given between separated group members when food has been found.

Too close for comfort
Coyotes are curious but timid animals and will generally run away if challenged.  However, remember that any wild animal will protect itself or its young. Never instigate a close encounter.

If a coyote comes too close, pick up small children immediately and act aggressively toward the animal. Wave your arms, throw stones and shout at the coyote.  If necessary, make yourself appear larger by standing up (if sitting) or stepping up onto a rock, stump or stair. The idea is to convince the coyote that you are not prey, but a potential danger.

Where coyote encounters occur regularly, keep noisemaking and other scare devices nearby. A starter pistol can be effective. A solid walking stick, pepper spray or paintball gun are powerful deterrents at close range.

If a coyote continues to act in an aggressive or unusual way, call the Liberty Lake Police Department or your local wildlife office.

Preventing conflicts
There have been no documented coyote attacks on humans in Washington state since 2006, which occurred in Bellevue. These coyotes' unusually aggressive behavior likely resulted from being fed by people.

Humans increase the likelihood of conflicts with coyotes by deliberately or inadvertently feeding the animals, whether by handouts or by providing access to food sources such as garbage or pet food. When people provide food, coyotes quickly lose their natural fear of humans and become increasingly aggressive. 

Prevention is the best tool for minimizing conflicts with coyotes and other wildlife. To prevent conflicts with coyotes, use the following management strategies around your property and encourage your neighbors to do the same:

1. Don't leave small children unattended where coyotes are frequently seen or heard.  
2. Never feed coyotes.
3. Don't give coyotes access to garbage.
4. Prevent access to fruit and compost.
5. Feed dogs and cats indoors.
6. Don't feed feral cats (these become a food source for the coyotes).
7. Prevent the buildup of feeder foods under bird feeders.
8. Keep dogs and cats indoor, especially from dusk to dawn.

Lethal control
If all efforts to dissuade a problem coyote fail and it continues to be a threat to humans or animals in their care, the animal may have to be killed.

Public health concerns
Coyote diseases or parasites are rarely a risk to humans, but could be a risk to domestic dogs in Washington.

Legal status
Coyotes are unclassified wildlife; however, a license and an open season are required to hunt or trap them. A property owner or the owner's immediate family, employee or tenant may kill or trap a coyote on that property if it is damaging crops or domestic animals. A license is not required in such cases.  

This information was obtained from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Why coyotes have become more plentiful recently
Coyotes tend to prey on small mammals and hunt in areas where their preferred food source is abundant. Though we may not have had many coyote sightings in the past, as ground squirrel and marmot populations have grown, coyotes have moved into this area. We expect that when their food source diminishes around our golf courses, they will move on.

What Liberty Lake Police Department will do
Since receiving the calls, the department has contacted the Department of Fish and Wildlife to advise them of the situation and to obtain guidance on this issue. The city has called trappers in the area and was advised that live trapping of coyotes in these circumstances is not a viable option. Other trapping options are available, but due to the proximity of where the coyote sightings are and the potential of child or domestic animals being caught or injured in one of these traps, they are too risky. We have considered using lethal control for this situation; however, after surveying the area where the sightings have been, the department has come to the conclusion that it would not be safe to attempt lethal control as there are numerous homes, pedestrians, trails and roads in the area leaving no safe backstop in the event of a miss or ricochet.

To keep coyotes off of your property, there are many suggestions available that you can try if you wish. One example is to use wolf pee on the perimeter of your property. There are mixed reviews on how successful this method is. Other suggestions can be found through various web page resources.

Your police department will respond to a situation where a coyote has entered your property and is being aggressive toward you or a domestic pet.  All the officers have been given instruction on how to handle these situations on a case by case basis.  

Brian Asmus is chief of the Liberty Lake Police Department. 

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