2007-03-22 / News

Students, citizens can learn coyote management practices

Dr. Numi Mitchell (right) prepares to release a young coyote that has been fitted with a tracking collar. Dr. Numi Mitchell (right) prepares to release a young coyote that has been fitted with a tracking collar. The Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS), a key project of The Conservation Agency, announced last week the release of its formal online education program.

As many as 30 Newport County and other Rhode Island schools and organizations will be participating this year, including both Jamestown schools.

Jim Kaczynski's seventh grade science classes will be focusing on the project, but other grades and after-school groups can participate as well.

The website also has an online journal "Coyote Bytes," that provides regional information about coyotes and the study's progress.

This is an exciting time of year for the NBCS. Researchers are currently capturing and collaring this year's group of Jamestown coyotes just in time for the start of the schools' participation. The group is currently tracking coyotes from nine different packs.

"We should see differences between this year's coyote movements and last," said Dr. Numi Mitchell, lead scientist for the NBCS, which is based in Jamestown.

"Numbers of coyotes have continued to increase in Jamestown and there is more activity downtown this year," she noted.

Coyotes on the island are very dependent on food subsidies from people. "Coyotes are sensitive to the amount of food resources available," said Mitchell, "and adjust their reproductive output ac- cordingly: the more food the more puppies they have."

Conversely, she noted, "they also drop their numbers if they sense a ceiling in resource availability. It follows that if we curtail the food subsidization of coyotes, their populations will drop to a level sustainable by the natural environment."

Over the past year and a half Mitchell says the NBCS has (through the use of GPS tracking collars) been identifying ways we could drastically lower food resources available to coyotes. "We are calling this Passive Coyote Management," she says, "because it involves modifying our own behavior."

The NBCS is working to reduce these direct and indirect handouts to coyotes, through public education and outreach programs currently being developed, Mitchell said.

The school program is the first part of this effort. Program success will involve intensive community education as well as policy change at the state and town levels.

Mitchell said the NBCS plans to partner with URI's Coastal Resources Center by year's end to implement the larger statewide outreach program.

In the meantime, NBCS staff continues to collect coyote population and resource use data, update the website regularly with new data and findings, visit schools, and work with RI DEM to develop management policies.

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