Aggressive coyotes in LFP killed by government agents; packed council meeting hears from agents and citizens

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Coyote photo from Wikimedia Commons
Over 60 people overflowed the small council chambers at Lake Forest Park on Thursday evening, July 28, 2011, for the council session on the recent killing of three coyotes in the city by agents from the Department of Agriculture.

Background
A family in Lake Forest Park has kept sheep for over 25 years. The sheep graze on their lawn and on neighbors' property along the quiet street. Some people in the neighborhood have been concerned for the safety of the sheep because of the increasingly aggressive behavior of the local coyotes. The sheep owner dismissed their fears because of his long history of keeping sheep and because sheep are bigger than coyotes and he thought they could defend themselves.

On July 18, 2011, the largest ram, "Big Boy," was found dead. The owner called the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and they brought in the United States Department of Agriculture. An autopsy performed on the sheep determined that it had been killed by several coyotes.

Coyotes
According to Kim Chandler, of the Mill Creek office of Fish and Wildlife, when wild animals commit depredations like this, by policy, that is an automatic death sentence. He brought in Matt Stevens, an agent for USDA, who is trained to track and kill or scare coyotes. The USDA requires payment for these services, so several neighbors on the street shared the costs.

Three coyotes killed
Stevens was in the neighborhood from the 18th to the 28th. During that time he checked in and out with the LFP Police, to advise them he was in the neighborhood and would be firing a gun. He shot three coyotes from the pack of six - both parents and one juvenile. He spent time scaring the other juveniles by shining spotlights on them and chasing them. He feels very comfortable that he has taught them to be wary of humans and they will not be a problem as long as humans leave them alone.

Someone is feeding the coyotes
Other than inadvertent feeding of coyotes, someone complicated the situation by dropping large quantities of dog food by the side of the road where the coyotes were active. This kept the pack close to where the food was on the road, and very close to homes. "When we did the autopsy on the alpha male, his stomach was full of dog food," said Stevens.
"Coyotes can fend for themselves," said Stevens.  "If you feed them you will keep them close to humans, decrease their fear of humans, and teach them that humans are a food source.  If you feed them, we will eventually have to kill them."
Reactions
Several dozen people made comments.  All expressed regret that the sheep died and that the coyotes were killed.  Several commented that the coyotes were just being coyotes and blamed the sheep owner for not having a barn or safe place for his sheep at night.  Several people said they had never had problems with coyotes.  

People who lived on the street told stories about an increasingly aggressive pack, who had begun to stalk dogs on leash and small children in yards near the woods.  

Some were horrified that men with guns were in their neighborhood at night, firing bullets, and the residents were not warned.

Many talked about the need to educate residents on how to live safely with coyotes and other wild life in the area, and the importance of not providing food sources for wild animals, either inadvertent or deliberate.

The future
Judging by comments from City Council members, the council may be considering ordinances regarding providing food sources for wild animals in the City.  

"We worked with the legislature for three years to try to pass legislation prohibiting the feeding of wild animals," said Kim Chandler, "but they were busy with other issues.  Lake Forest Park can be the model for the state."

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