There seems to be a growing coyote problem in Swan Hills. Over the past few months, there appears to be an increase in pictures of coyotes in (or just outside of) town being posted to social media as a warning to other Swan Hills residents. The Town of Swan Hills' Protective Services received eight animal control complaints related to coyotes in just the first month of 2021 alone.
Protective Services is well aware of the issue and is trying to deal with it as best they can, but there are no easy solutions to this problem. Alberta Fish and Wildlife's mandate no longer includes dealing with nuisance animals in populated areas; the responsibility for this matter falls mainly to the municipality.
The issue of coyote populations encroaching on populated areas is a problem that we share with many other municipalities and urban areas in North America. There doesn't seem to be an effective way to remove coyotes from populated areas. For more than 100 years, the strategy of eliminating coyotes has been attempted and has failed in multiple locations and jurisdictions across the continent. Although counterintuitive, mass killings of coyotes only seem to increase their population by disrupting their social structure. Ordinarily, only the dominant pair in a pack of coyotes reproduce, using behavioural strategies to curb reproduction amongst the group's subordinate members. If one or both dominant pair members are killed, the pack usually breaks up. Then the subordinate members tend to go off, find mates and reproduce. Without the usual social controls in place, an increased number of coyotes reproduce at younger ages. Killing off a significant portion of the local coyote population will affect the local ecosystem, usually leading to an increase of the available prey in the area. The increased availability of prey benefits the remaining coyotes and contributes to increasing their offspring's survival rates. All of these factors working together will generally lead to an increase in the local population.
Commonly used lethal control measures include live trapping and euthanasia, snaring, poisoning, and shooting. Each of these methods has its drawbacks, and many of them present serious health and safety risks in populated areas to people and their pets. Coyotes are also fairly intelligent and perceptive, quickly learning to avoid traps and snares.
In light of these issues, Alberta Fish and Wildlife has focused on the non-lethal strategy of "aversive conditioning,"; attempting to change an animal's behaviour by making human encounters unpleasant. This approach will only work if everyone responds to coyote encounters aggressively.
What can we do to reduce the chances of coyotes coming to our communities? We can make changes in our neighbourhoods. It is important to remember that the main reason that coyotes keep returning to our town is that they are finding easily accessible food and/or shelter.
Here are some preventative strategies and ways to reduce the attraction of our neighbourhoods to these four-footed opportunists, as recommended by Alberta Fish and Wildlife:
· Do not feed coyotes as this is pretty much guaranteed to lead to unsafe situations resulting in human injury and/or the death of the animal.
· Do not leave out unintentional food sources such as pet food, garbage, and fruit that has fallen from trees. Removing these food sources can reduce the attraction for coyotes to come into our town.
· Remove low branches on your trees. These can provide hiding places for coyotes and attract the small animals that they prey upon.
· Keep your yard clean by removing seeds, meat, fallen fruit and suet for birds. These items can attract mice and squirrels, which in turn can attract coyotes in search of prey.
· Install motion-activated lights.
· Keep your cats inside and supervise your dogs when they are playing outside (especially smaller dogs).
· Clean up after your dogs; dog waste can attract coyotes.
· Close off any spaces under decks, patios, and outbuilding using a durable wire mesh to prevent coyotes from using these spaces as a shelter.
· Wait until garbage collection day to bring your garbage out so that it does not serve as an attractant by sitting for days before being collected.
· Talk to others in your community about following the same prevention measures.
If you encounter a coyote, Alberta Fish and Wildlife recommends making the experience unpleasant for the animal. Make it feel unwelcome in your community. Even if you are not overly concerned about potential problems with coyotes, they should not be made to feel comfortable around people or in our communities.
If you find yourself in close proximity to a coyote:
· Respond aggressively by making yourself appear larger and more intimidating. Stand tall and wave your arms over your head. If you are carrying any type of long object such as a walking stick or a cane, thrust it at the animal.
· Throw things like rocks, sticks, or other objects at hand toward the coyote.
· Shout in a deep voice and maintain eye contact.
· If the coyote continues to approach, back away slowly toward any nearby buildings or towards human activity.
· Do not turn away or run. To run from a predator is to invite them to chase you.
· If you have an aggressive encounter with a coyote, or if you see one that is so sick and/or injured that it can't move, contact Fish and Wildlife through the Report-A Poacher line at 1 (800) 642-3800.
Visit www.alberta.ca/coyotes.aspx for more information about Alberta Fish and Wildlife's recommendations around conflicts with coyotes.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette