Work session addresses coyote and deer issues
Biologist Numi Mitchell, Ph.D., and Lori Gibson, from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, presented their coyote and deer management programs respectively at a special workshop, which preceded the March 24 council session.
Mitchell is the lead scientist and project director of the Conservation Agency Coyote Management Study, and Gibson is a supervising wildlife biologist with RIDEM.
Mitchell began the workshop by saying that coyote management has two main components: science and education, and cited education as the key to success. She explained that coyotes are the only species that manage their birth rate based on the available food supply. She also said that limiting the amount of available food will dictate the number of pups in each litter, adding that coyotes can produce as many as 13 young in one litter.
"After three years of leading the Narragansett Bay Coyote study, I can definitely say there are two kinds of coyotes: good ones and bad ones. The good ones eat mice, rabbits, woodchucks, geese, deer fawns, and other naturally occurring foods. The bad ones eat Kibbles and Bits, cats, small dogs, and do not run away - and may even approach when they see you.
"A good thing about good coyotes is that, if they are established or live in a pack, they defend their territory and keep out other coyotes. This is important when they are keeping out bad coyotes. If you have good coyotes, you want to keep them. Bad coyotes almost always end up being destroyed, but not before they visit schoolyards during the day or eat several small pets."
She added that, "Since the Conservation Agency began the NBCS, we've followed 10 packs of coyotes on Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands, some good, some bad. Our GPS tracking collars reveal where each one goes every hour of every day."
Mitchell said that four packs of coyotes live on Conanicut Island, and that she has developed a 10- step plan designed to control the population, as well as their behavior. The plan includes recommending that municipalities develop ordinances for the proper disposal of road kill and other animal carcasses.
She said that 26 deer were killed on Jamestown roads in 2007 and there is no policy for disposal of those animals. At 150- to 200- pounds per animal, this is an abundant source of food for a coyote pack. Proper disposal of carcasses also applies to farmers. They need a disposal strategy for dead livestock. She said that ordinances are needed to control the feeding of feral cats, because coyotes will eat their food. "When the food is gone, the coyotes then turn to the cats," Mitchell said.
For more information about coyote management, Mitchell recommended visiting the Web site at www.theconservationagency.org/ coyote.htm. She said the site gets as many as 40,000 hits a month, and has been one of their best educational tools.
"We started the education program with 15 schools," Mitchell said. "Now we have 35 schools involved, including the University of Rhode Island."
After she finished her presentation, the council was given an opportunity to ask questions. One of the questions raised by Councilman Robert Sutton was, "Is there a problem with rabies?" Mitchell said, "Yes. There's already been a case in Warwick."
Lori Gibson reported that last year the deer harvest amounted to 41 animals. She said that 24 were taken by archery and 17 by muzzle loader. She emphasized that those were the ones that were reported. She said they have no way of knowing how many were taken that were not reported.
Gibson said that the island currently supports a herd of approximately 472 animals. "That's about 40 per square mile, which is twice as many as we would like," she said. "We have to double the effort if we are going to be effective."
According to Gibson, the harvest has been about the same the last few years, and the herd has not diminished in size. "Fortunately, it's stayed about the same, and hasn't increased," she said.
To cull the herd, Gibson recommended increasing access to areas where the deer have established habitat, as well as extending the archery season at Beavertail. She also said that hunters should be encouraged to take antlerless deer. "Just eliminating the males is not going to reduce the size of the herd," she said.
Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski said that efforts have been made to contact private property owners who have land that is large enough to be eligible for hunters. "But we need to do more than send out a flyer asking them to participate. We need to visit them one on one and assure them of the precautions that are taken to make the hunt safe," she said.
The council agreed, and Larry Mouradjian, associate director of DEM, who attended the meeting, said he would personally work with the council to better educate island residents about how hunting is handled.
Gibson also recommended increasing the acreage for hunting at Beavertail, as well as making more state lands available to hunters.