Important coyote follow up

This is a follow up to our previous blog post about coyotes at the Sheep Dog trials. Since last Friday, we have learned more. Because Vashon Nature Center’s focus is to provide information about local wildlife and ecosystems, we would like to share resources on living with coyotes, new information about recent events, and results from our local research on Vashon coyotes since 2011.

 

While we believe in both the intrinsic and ecological value of coyotes in the landscape, we are committed to remaining open to the question of whether coyotes and humans can be successful living together on Vashon-Maury. Our purpose is to provide the best information about wildlife so that we can work intelligently towards living together.

 

Please ask us if anything in this post is unclear, or if you need more information. We will work hard to connect you with someone who can answer your questions.

 

Resources

For information on living with coyotes:

Project Coyote Hazing Guide and Fact Sheet

Washington Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheet

Shivik 2004.  Non-lethal alternatives for predation management. Sheep and Goat Research Journal. 19:64-71. Download

 

For information on ecological benefits of coyotes:

Ripple et al. 2014. Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores. Science 343 (6167).

Predator defense

 

For case studies of other communities that have had success in living with coyotes:

Proceedings of the 22nd Vertebrate Pest Conference: Fox- C.H.2006.Coyotes – Humans – Can We Coexist VPC Proceedings

 

If you want to talk with an actual person:

Both USDA and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife representatives are willing to talk with Vashon-Maury residents. Both of these agencies can employ lethal control but emphasize it as a last resort and agree on the importance of using non-lethal and preventative techniques for success in the long-run. USDA contact: Andy Cleland 253-329-6234. WDFW contact: Mike Smith 425-775-1311.

 

New information and its implications

USDA provided us with the demographics of the two coyotes that were shot: one juvenile male and one yearling female that had never bred. There were adult coyotes present in the remaining group. The fact that adults were not killed is potentially good news as it suggests that the social structure of the pack remains intact. Research shows that maintaining the social structure of coyote packs is very important as it prevents a “Lord of the Flies” situation where young coyotes are left to fend for themselves, which often leads to an increase in bold behavior towards humans and domestic animals. Keeping the leading adults with the pack also prevents population booms because breeding is suppressed in all but the alpha pair. If the alpha pair is eliminated, then all coyotes can disperse and breed (Humane Society, Moehlman et al. 1997).

We now have a window of opportunity to successfully live with coyotes if our community employs the various non-lethal techniques available to encourage the remaining coyotes to be wary of humans and domestic animals. As coyotes learn more desirable (for humans) behaviors, these behaviors are more likely to persist in the long run as they are passed from older to younger animals in the pack.

 

Insights to date from our local island sightings database

Since 2011, Vashon Nature Center has been keeping a coyote sighting database to track coyote ranges, behaviors, and habits (we record sightings, human or domestic animal interactions with coyotes, and howls heard).  Please keep telling us what you experience so we can all work together to better understand our island coyotes and minimize conflicts.  We’d like to share the insights from this database so far.

 

  • Our best estimate of coyote numbers on Vashon-Maury based on reports of sightings and howls and inference from home range sizes is 6-10 total.
  • 74% of the coyote activity reported to us since 2011 occurs before 6 am and after 6 pm. This is good news for dog and cat owners because it means islanders can minimize pet contact with coyotes by keeping pets in at night.
  • There seem to be two major activity areas for coyotes on Vashon—one north and one south, but we do not know if these are two packs or just the one (now four-member) pack with a wide range. We have never had reports from both places at the same time, which would indicate two packs.
  • We have had few reports of howls or sightings on Maury Island, but this may be due to holes in our network rather than a real absence of coyotes. We just received belated reports of coyotes and coyote-livestock interactions on Maury, and are working to verify these and see if they are the same or different coyotes than those on Vashon. If you live on Maury, please report any sightings to us so we can fill this information gap.
  • Coyotes may be taking deer and possibly raccoons. We have preliminary evidence based on reports and examination of carcasses. We are now starting a study of coyote droppings to get a more rigorous idea of what composes a coyote diet here in an effort to understand their role in island ecology. Think you found some coyote scat? Contact us.
  • There seems to be a slight rise in coyote reports in the following three time periods each year: May-June, August, and December-January. This may be an artifact of our reporting network. However, it does roughly correspond to phases in the coyote life cycle conducive to boldness: May-June is when pups are raised, August-September is when juveniles disperse, and December-January is when mating occurs.

 

What’s next?

Other communities have found that the key to minimizing conflicts is keeping coyotes acting wild and wary of humans.

  • Research: Vashon Nature Center hopes to continue to build our research program on coyote populations so that we understand them better—both their habits and behaviors, and how they are affecting island ecology as a whole. One way islanders can contribute to this is through adding to our local sightings database: Let us know when you see or hear coyotes.
  • Education: Recent events have shown us our coyotes are beginning to act more boldly.  This is a good time for all island residents to learn about best techniques for living with coyotes. The links above provide a start. Please read them and share them with friends.  We all need to work together to encourage coyotes to stay wary of us.
  • Working together: Momentum is gaining for an authentic and representative working group of island residents that will explore, examine, and test best strategies for living with coyotes on Vashon-Maury, and hear from experts. Vashon Nature Center supports the creation of this working group and will be glad to be a member as it gets off the ground. We recognize the importance of treating our relationship with coyotes here as a learning experience that will evolve over time. A working group will help us learn and adapt as a community to find what works best for the island.

We will continue to do our best to provide updates on anything coyote moving forward. Don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.  AAAAAOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

13 Comments on “Important coyote follow up

  1. I am so grateful for this information. I would like to support efforts to live WITH coyotes – having just rewatched Greenfire, the Aldo Leopold film, I’m reminded that our human effort to ‘eradicate’ parts of the ecosystem generally backfire on us. So coyotes could help balance the deer and raccoon population, which would be good.
    Let me know how I can help and thank you so much for your efforts.

    • Thank you Merrilee for the insightful comments. I would recommend Greenfire as well. Great movie. For now reporting sightings or howls is a great help (vashonnaturecenter.org–use the contact form) and if you find coyote scat (1/2-3/4 inch in diameter, 3-12 inches long, distinguishable from dog because of presence of hair and bones, sometimes also fruit and berries) pick it up with a ziploc bag and let us know and we will come get it from you! Thanks!

  2. Thanks for your effort. It is good to be reminded that we are all in this together.

  3. Thanks for this excellent information! My neighbor called me to say her neighbor found a dismembered cat & she saw the coyote walking on the bulkhead in front of her house on Corbin Beach. I have warned others w/ cats. May no lethal co existence occur!

    • Thanks for the info swan eagle. If possible could you have your neighbor contact us with time and date of the coyote sighting and a description of what she saw including info on the cat? I am sorry to hear about the cat. There is a contact form on our website: vashonnaturecenter.org (under contact) Thank you.

  4. We live on Wax Orchard Road across the street from Christensen Pond Bird Refuge. We hear the coyotes often especially in warm weather when our windows are open. They were particularly vocal mid-August and it sounded like juveniles as well as adults. We have been told they den down in Christensen Creek canyon. Please keep up the work you are doing!

    • Thanks Emma. Yes the coyote pack using the south end seems to have numerous den sites scattered throughout the Christensen-Wax-Fisher-Shawnee-Sealth area that they transfer between quite frequently. We are learning that this is a common practice for coyotes. One small pack will create multiple den sites and move quite often between them. Researchers think that this frequent movement helps to keep den sites clean and decreases problems with fleas and parasites! Interesting.

  5. Yes, Bianca, I will tell my neighbor when I see her. I am house sitting off island til next week. Thanks for the good work.

  6. Thank you for the update and all the helpful information. I also appreciate your attempt to educate the public, which will help to keep the conversation sane and productive. I totally support all non lethal efforts to live peacefully with ALL wildlife on Vashon/Murray island. Thanks again!

  7. November 23 6 PM – spotted 1 or 2 coyotes on 135th Ave SW just off 280th St.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *