2006-06-29 / Front Page

Council approves funds to continue coyote study

By Dotti Farrington

The Town Council Monday voted 4-1 to approve $5,000, or half the amount requested, for work to control the island's coyote population.

The council action was in response to an appeal by Numi Mitchell, lead scientist for the two-year-old Narragansett Bay Coyote Study, based at the nonprofit Conversation Agency with a branch office on Howland Avenue in Jamestown.

The study has shown that a significant increase in the numbers of coyotes on the island is due primarily to intentional and unintentional feeding of the animals by island residents. Coyotes are thriving on pet food and scraps left for pets or for the coyotes themselves, foods added to compost piles, deer shot but not recovered, road kills, and even at least one dead cow left out in the open through the winter.

Mitchell said the coyote increase is comparable to the deer overpopulation, which has proven to be difficult and controversial to control. She said, however, that coyotes will regulate their own population by having fewer offspring if little food is available to them.

The agency requested $9,999 to continue working on its goal to "passively maintain coyote populations at a reasonable level by decreasing resource (food) availability."

Mitchell said the primary work to be done with local funds is to educate the public about the bad habit of feeding the wild animals. She said that to continue to collect data that will be used here and elsewhere will cost more than $200,000 during the coming year. Most of the funds will be raised privately, through foundations, but the agency has a $30,000 shortfall for the coming year.

The councilors showed reluctance to join such a new effort, but led by Council President David Long, they agreed to approve half the amount Mitchell requested as a way to help determine the program's value. Mitchell said she would return for the balance, if needed, after the program shows progress

Mitchell said the first year of study revealed the unexpected source of food for the coyotes directly from residents. She said that factor was pinpointed as a most significant one that can lead to extensive population control if people can be convinced to stop feeding the coyotes. "The impact

of easy feeding makes them bold and a real issue for neighbors," Mitchell said.

She told the council that the Conservation Agency is already working through the schools and maintains a Web site, www.theconservatonagency. org, about its work and goals.

So far, the study has identified four or five packs of coyotes on the island "and it will get worse" if the easy access of food is not ended, Mitchell said. The study also showed that the coyotes do not attack deer, but will feed on those that had been shot but not tracked and removed. Mitchell said about 15 to 20 such unrecovered deer were noted during the past year. As another way to discourage coyote population growth, the agency will fund the use of dogs trained to locate such deer so they can be removed.

Councilman William Kelly was especially critical of people who were ignorant about what their feeding does in terms of promoting the population density of wild animals. He was the only councilor to vote against the funds for the agency.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski, a well-known animal advocate, acknowledged that she used to be one of those people who thought feeding the coyotes would in effect save cats from becoming their prey. She said she now understands how feeding coyotes is counterproductive. Mitchell told the councilors they would see whatever funds they contribute to return many times over.

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