Letter to the City of Sherwood
September 19, 2008
Mr. Jim Patterson
Chief Jeff Groth
Mr. John Ruecker
City of Sherwood
22550 SW Pine Street
Sherwood, Oregon 97140
Dear Mr. Patterson, Mr. Ruecker and Chief Groth,
I am writing on behalf of the Audubon Society of Portland to express our concern regarding Sherwood’s new coyote policy. As we understand the policy, police officers have been instructed to shoot coyotes “on sight” when it is deemed safe to do so. Audubon has worked on urban and suburban coyote issues for more nearly two decades. Based on our professional opinion, such a policy is not only inhumane and ecologically unsound, but it is also unlikely to effectively address the public concerns that have been raised. Audubon has worked with many local municipalities to develop coyote science-based coyote management and educational outreach strategies. We hope that the City of Sherwood will consider working with us now to develop coyote management policies that are based on science rather than fear and which prioritize education over eradication.
The sighting of a coyote in urban and suburban areas across the Metropolitan Region is neither surprising nor inherently cause for alarm. Coyotes are a highly adaptable member of the dog family and have established themselves on even the most urbanized landscapes across the United States. With proactive outreach the vast majority of coyote related conflicts can be avoided.
It is important to understand several key elements of coyote behavior and ecology in order to develop an effective management strategy. First, coyotes are able to maintain their populations even at the highest levels of control. Transient coyotes very quickly fill any vacated habitat. In addition, killing coyotes disrupts pack structure and triggers a compensatory breeding rate that causes more coyotes to breed (under normal circumstances only the alpha male and female in a pack breed) and to have larger litters. In short, even with an intense control strategy such as the one being proposed by Sherwood, coyotes will continue to inhabit your neighborhoods and natural areas. For this reason “normal” coyote behavior such as predating free roaming cats and unattended small dogs can be expected to continue regardless of control strategy. The strong consensus among wildlife experts is that the only way to protect free roaming cats and unattended small dogs not only from coyotes, but also from other pet hazards common on our landscapes, is not to kill coyotes, but rather to encourage more responsible pet ownership.
Second, coyote attacks on humans are exceedingly rare. Unless habituated to humans, coyotes are generally shy and wary and present a minimal risk to humans. There has only been one human death attributed to coyote predation in the United States. This occurred in California in the 1970s when a coyote that had been deliberately habituated to human handouts preyed upon his human feeder's three-year-old child. There has never been an unprovoked attack on a human in the State of Oregon. Those incidents that have occurred nationwide most often fall into the category of nips, bites and scratches rather than predatory attacks and almost always follow situations in which the coyote has been deliberately habituated to human handouts.
To put these numbers in perspective, it is worth noting that according to the U.S. Department of Health statistics show that there are 4.7 million people bitten by domestic dogs each year. Of these 800,000 require medical attention, 10,000 require hospitalization, and 18 people die as a result of their injuries.
Coyote attacks on humans can and do occur, but they are an anomaly. Individual incidents need to be investigated on a case by case basis since coyotes are often misidentified and coyote behavior is often misinterpreted. Where coyotes are determined to be demonstrating abnormal, unprovoked aggressive behaviors towards humans, specific individuals should be targeted for removal from the environment but targeting all coyotes is not appropriate.
Finally, regardless of whether Sherwood chooses to pursue lethal control, any coyote management strategy needs to be coupled with a strong education outreach component. Audubon has worked with neighborhoods and communities to develop strategies for preventing and reducing future conflicts. The City of Sherwood will continue to have coyotes, either the ones that currently inhabit your landscape or the ones that will quickly replace the ones that are removed. The best and most effective solutions are those which teach people to live with coyotes rather provide a false sense of security though misguided attempts at eradication. Our website http://www.audubonportland.org/backyardwildlife/brochures/coyote will provide you with additional information on living with coyotes.
I look forward to talking with you further,
Audubon Society of Portland