Who’s your neighbor? Five whitetail deer that ravish your tomato plants or your expensive landscaping? A squirrel that empties your bird feeder? A coyote eyeing your cat from behind a tree? In this Trail Talk blog for MichiganTrailMaps.com, Jim DuFresne looks at the issue of when people butt heads with wildlife in suburbia Michigan.
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By Jim DuFresne
Last month Debbie Oppat let her 5-pound Maltese dog out into her backyard that is surrounded by woods in Novi. She had to go into the house for a minute and while inside heard an excoriating noise and thought “’Oh my gosh. It’s my dog.”
She ran outside and saw two coyotes. One had snatched Tori and was dragging her three-year-old dog into the woods. She chased the coyotes into the forest, but stopped when she saw them shake Tori’s lifeless body and realized how far into the woods she had gone. “What if they turn around and attack me?” she told WDIV News.
She then posted about her traumatic experience on Facebook, urging neighbors and friends to reach out to the Novi police to do something about “these predators.”
Patrol neighborhoods looking for coyotes half hidden among the trees ready to pounce on unsuspecting dogs? Novi Police Department Lt. John Nelson said residents can call the police if coyotes are attacking their pets but the chance of a police officer arriving in time to stop such an attack by shooting the coyotes are slim. “If we can get there in time to stop them, absolutely (we will),” he said.
I suspect what Oppat wants the Novi Police to do, and what others have urged the Michigan DNR to do, is eliminate coyotes from urban areas. That’s a little harder but certainly not impossible.
We managed to do it to wolves. Thanks to a government-sponsored extermination program that paid a generous bounty to hunters, gray wolves were eliminated from southern Michigan by 1838 and were gone from the Upper Peninsula (except Isle Royale) as well as Wisconsin and most of Minnesota by 1960.
Job well done but coyotes might not be as easy to remove.
Ranging in size from 20 to 45 pounds, coyotes have readily adapted to living close to people, including probably every urban area in Michigan. Ironically, human development makes surprisingly good coyote habitat. They can live and breed in small tracts of woods, parks or natural areas while their main food supply (mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks) makes living close to people possible. We also unwittingly provide them with additional sources of food; outdoor cats, garbage, pet food, road-killed animals and, as Oppat discovered, small dogs.
In her television interview, Oppat gave the favorite response of those who think we need to exterminate coyotes from suburbia Michigan: “I worry about the safety of other family pets and more importantly the children who walk them,” she said.
Ah yes, the safety of our children. Keep in mind that a coyote attack on a human has never been reported or documented in Michigan, according to the DNR. Coyotes are normally very skittish of people and once they see you on foot, they bolt.
We eliminated wolves and eventually we came to regret that. We discovered the gray wolf, in the words of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, was “a keystone predator” and “an integral component of the ecosystems to which it typically belongs.” All you have to do is look at Isle Royale and the island’s exploding moose population to understand why we’ve worked so hard to bring the wolf back to the Midwest.
Coyotes have a similar value. “Coyotes are good neighbors to have, as they eat mice and rats, squirrels and other small mammals that we might consider pests,” said Holly Vaughn of the Michigan DNR.
To that end the DNR urges people to keep pets under close supervision, taking them out on a leash rather than having them run loose in the backyard. Neighborhood residents who see coyotes are encouraged to make noise, clap their hands, bang pots and pans, honk a car horn. “If (coyotes) receive these stimuli over and over from all the neighbors in an area,” Vaughn said, “they may move on to another location with fewer perceived threats.”
These are fine suggestions and the DNR has packaged them in a video that focuses on living with coyotes, not eliminating them. It’s titled “Coexisting With Urban Coyotes” and you can watch it online .
But I believe we need to take this a step further. What we need is an attitude adjustment. We need to accept the fact that coyotes have every right to live in the woods that surrounds your backyard as you do in the house that overlooks it.
I don’t understand why people think the human race has the right to pick and choose which species can live on this green planet and which ones need to be eliminated so we can let our pets run free outside? Other than we proved we are very capable of eliminating an entire species.
I have no problem with hunting or trapping coyotes but to seek total elimination from an area like we did with wolves and mountain lions, that’s not a decision I’m comfortable shouldering. It’s better to accept them as your neighbor and learn to coexist with them.
You want a dog and live in an area that supports a population of coyotes? Fine, just keep Fido on a leash.