Saturday, March 5, 2011

Report from PSU Presentation on Coyotes in NE Portland (3/3/11)

Two to three hundred people crowded into a Grant High School room at 6:30 on Thursday 3 March to hear a representative from the Audubon Society of Portland talk about coyotes in our Alameda, Sabin, King, and Cully neighborhoods. Though in the past rare west of the Cascades, coyotes have been with us here for seven or eight years, mostly keeping to themselves and feasting on rats, raccoons, goose eggs, and insects, probably to our benefit, but in the last five months Northeast coyotes have changed their behavior, killing backyard chickens and small pets, walking the sidewalks, sleeping in streets, and playing with off leash dogs in parks. A second grade class at Alameda Elementary has been tracking their sightings, inspiring Barbara Brower, geography professor at Portland State University to follow up on their work and try to understand what is happening. Last night, some of her students were present with surveys to learn more about residents’ response to the more visible presence of coyotes.

Presenters emphasized that coyotes are here to stay. If removed from a territory, they return, traveling as much as sixty miles a day. Only the alpha pair mates under ordinary circumstances, but, if they are killed or threatened, all the other coyotes in the pack mate, too, and litter size increases. Extensive study of the hundreds of Chicago coyotes shows that if coyotes are exterminated in a territory, others quickly come from outside to take their place. Therefore, our only recourse is to “restore instinctive behavior” in the animals by refusing to feed them and aggressively making noise, waving arms, and stamping feet to scare them back into hiding if they approach. 

Experts believe that the changes in coyote behavior in our neighborhoods may have come from feeding the coyotes. Some residents of Alameda defiantly feed the coyotes forty to fifty pounds of cat food every night, making the creatures comfortable to come into yards and onto porches. One resident described how a coyote who had killed his chickens ate them on the roof of his garage but left the remains on his front porch. Jeff Cogan is proposing a county wide no-feed ordinance with a hefty fine for anyone caught voluntarily feeding coyotes.

Other recommendations are to keep pets indoors, secure garbage cans and compost bins, remove fallen fruit from yards, eliminate opportunities for rats to breed in your yard, never approach coyotes but instead scare them away, remove unnecessary brush, and install motion sensitive lights or water jets.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare and usually result from human attacks on coyotes. The only known death caused by coyotes was a two year old whose parents had been feeding coyotes. Rabies is rare in coyotes in Oregon. Dogs are a much greater threat to humans than coyotes, but the behavior changes are troubling and need to be discouraged.

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