How to handle Austin's growing coyote conflict
On November 20, Austin City Council approved a resolution directing the city manager to adopt a coyote conflict management strategy that emphasizes education and humane, non-lethal measures. The new policy states that Austin “will practice an attitude of tolerance for and co-existence with coyotes.”
As is often the case with political issues, no one is 100 percent pleased with the change. “However, I think at the end of the process, we have a workable policy that takes into account public safety and our ideals about living with wildlife,” says Chris Noble, assistant director of the Austin Animal Center, who manages the contract for coyote management by Texas Wildlife Services.
It's important to note that no attacks by a coyote on a human have ever been reported in Travis County, according to TWS wildlife biologist Stefan Hunt. From October 2013 to September 2014, Hunt says there were 741 coyote encounters reported in Travis County, with average animal behavior scores between 1.5 and 2. In that same time period, coyotes killed 45 pets at night and 17 during the day.
“We score the animal behavior from 0 to 7. Zero would be something like just hearing them, while seven would be aggressive action toward people in midday.” Wildlife Services responds to scores of less than 4 or 5 with education efforts, while animals with higher scores are trapped and euthanized. Those higher scores typically represent an animal that has become habituated.
Coyotes tend to avoid human contact — unless they become habituated to humans and lose that natural fear. That happens as a result of our own behaviors, primarily leaving out pet food. (When coyote reports increased in Austin’s Allandale neighborhood several years back, wildlife biologists analyzed coyote scat in the area and found it 100 percent pet food.) Coyotes are territorial, and the size of their territory depends on shelter, food and water. It is impractical to limit shelter, but we can limit access to pet food, pets, and trash, which will naturally limit coyote numbers.
To avoid habituating coyotes to humans, experts recommend these steps:
- Do not put feed or water out for coyotes or wild animals that are their prey (deer, rabbits).
- Construct and position bird feeders so that coyote prey (squirrels and rodents) can’t get to them.
- Secure garbage and compost so coyotes cannot get to it. Use tight-fitting lids on trash cans and fix them so they cannot be turned over.
- If you compost, make it inaccessible to coyotes with fencing or containers.
- If you have fruit trees, clear fallen fruit from the ground.
- Feed pets indoors. If you feed outdoors, pick up any leftovers. Store pet food where wildlife can’t get to it.
- Do not allow pets to run free. Walk your dog on a leash (which is the law in Austin) and accompany your pet outside at night. Walk small dogs in open areas.
- If you see coyotes around your home or property, act aggressively - throw rocks or sticks at them or spray them with the hose. This hazing is an inexpensive and proven method of re-training coyotes to avoid human contact.
Keep in mind that the risk presented by coyotes is much less than that of being seriously bitten by a dog or hurt or killed in an automobile accident. Wild coyotes also provide useful ecosystem services.
“In an urban area like Austin, we are already out of balance in terms of predator-prey relationships,” says Texas Parks & Wildlife Department wildlife biologist Kelly Simon. “We want to make sure that the predators we do have, including coyotes, fulfill their role in the ecosystem.”