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Friday, November 12, 2010

Coyotes In Our Community -- They're Here to Stay!

Coyotes In Our Community
Coyote in the "Light Phase" Color Doing Its Thing

We have coyotes in Kinnelon as permanent residents and we're going to have to come to terms with them! That's the message we took away from the Coyotes in Our Communities lecture given Monday, Nov. 8, 2010 at the Kinnelon High School, by the The NJ Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish & Wildlife.

In a fairly informal lecture with statistics and pictures with questions asked and answered afterwards, a moderate sized crowd was given a picture of the rise of the coyote population in NJ over the last 60 years, a bunch of facts, what to expect of coyotes, how to deal with them, and what the State of New Jersey's policy is toward coyotes.

First some facts:

For whatever reason, coyotes are new to New Jersey, and in fact the entire Eastern United States. They have pushed eastward from their traditional range in and around the Rocky Mountains in only the last hundred years or so. It's not a case of them having been hunted to extinction, and that they are now bouncing back, but simply that they are now able to expand in a way they have not been able to before.

The guesstimate of a population for coyotes in NJ is about 3,000 individuals, based on sightings, roadkill, diseased and/or dead animals reported, and hunter kills, which are legal during deer season, and which must be reported to the State within 24 hours of the kill.

The greatest density of animals is in the north and west of the State, and northern Morris County is in the high density area.
Depending on sex and age, adults vary size from 35 to about 50 lbs; they live less than 10 years in the wild, and perhaps as little as six.

Most coyotes do not make it to adulthood, but die before reaching the age of 1 and before they've learned enough to stay alive. They are hit by cars, taken by disease, and/or fail as hunters when they are pushed out of the family group at about 6 months of age.

Litters are produced in the spring, and only in the spring, and they are on their own by early fall. Which means that each adult pair produces a maximum of 6 new coyotes per year, most of which do not survive that first year.

Coyotes come in different colors or "phases" from from lightish beige and grey, to to a darkish charcoal color.

They have bushy tails which they hold still and down, unlike many dogs.

Their scat is somewhat dog-like but contains a lot of small bones and fur.

They do NOT hunt in packs and are not pack animals. Sightings of multiple animals are FAMILY sightings, which top out at around 8 animals, a typical litter of 6 and 2 parents.

They hunt small prey, considerably smaller than themselves, principally rodents such as rabbits, mice and voles, as well as birds, up to and including wild turkeys, and will consider small dogs up to about 20 lbs, and possibly even small children of a similar size, to be prey.

They are dusk and nocturnal hunters but not exclusively, and may be seen in daylight.

Coyotes ARE afraid of people and WILL give ground if charged or approached, if they are not cornered.

New Jersey has only 5 employees for the entire state to deal with larger animals, including mammals and birds, such as bear, deer, turkeys, owls, falcons, bobcats, and, yes, coyotes.

The state will not take any pro-active action against coyotes in any area, but will only address specific problems such as repeated taking of livestock, or attacks against people, because of a lack of NJ State resources, and because the experience of Western states has been that it has not been possible to eradicate, or even curtail the coyote population, even with the commitment of substantial public funds -- which NJ does not have.

That's about it for the facts I remember.

In remarks after the lecture itself, we were told that the best way to protect pets and children is to keep them inside, and not to let small dogs and children run free or far from adults when outside.

Incidents in other communities in NJ were discussed, just a very few over the last 50 years, involving attacks on people which led to the State's trapping of a specific animal which then ended the problem.

Several people expressed unhappiness over the State's policy and felt that NJ ought to do "something" about the coyotes, and 2 recounted tales of having their small dogs taken during a walk or from their backyards when their pets got a distance away from them, and were then grabbed by a coyote.

After a combined hour of lecture, slides and questions, the meeting was ended with thanks to the representative of NJ Fish and Wildlife and applause, as well as a few grumbles from those who wanted more to be done.

There you have it.

~Ted

Also see Kinnelon Critter File: Coyotes

Image courtesy of EnviroPolitics Blog.
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