Coyotes: Good or Bad?

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By Stephanie Farrell
They are better heard and not seen. Even hearing the distinctive howl of a coyote, though, seems ominous for area residents.
“It’s found in every area of New Jersey—cities, suburbs, farms,” said Lawrence Hajna, spokesman for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). “Do we have a coyote problem? What we need is coyote education, what to do, what not to do, and what to expect.”
Because of the increasing talk among residents about coyotes, the Upper Deerfield Township Environmental Commission will sponsor a free program next week. For “Coyotes: Good or Bad,” Anthony McBride, a biologist and NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife coyote expert, will provide background information on coyotes in our area. McBride will also answer questions from homeowners and farmers.
There’s been talk that the state reintroduced the coyote to control deer and turkey populations. “That’s a myth,” said Hajna. “That’s somehow got perpetuated over time. How the coyote got to New Jersey is a bit of a mystery. The first sighting was in Hunterdon County in 1939. There were increasing reports of coyotes but still sporadic.”
Since the 1980s, the population has increased dramatically. Though coyotes can be taken during the hunting season, Hanja said “very few people do that.” Therefore, the coyote does not have a natural predator here.
“It’s a very adaptable creature. It tends to be reclusive. It is most active in the early morning hours at dawn and the evening hours around dusk,” said Hanja.
How would you recognize a coyote? According to the NJDEP website, it looks like a dog, almost German Shepherd-like but carries its bushy, black-tipped tail low. It also has a longer snout than dogs. Coyotes spotted here are generally larger than out west, 20 to 50 pounds or even up to 55 pounds.
Hanja adds, “It is an opportunistic animal. They tend to feed on small rodents, mice, squirrels, rabbits. They tend to control those populations.”
If you have an encounter with a coyote, he recommends being wary of your surroundings and its behavior. He suggests making a loud noise with something, throwing rocks, and shouting. “Chase it off your property. A coyote attack on a person is extremely rare, but it has been known to attack small pets. It is doing what comes naturally.” The program will give tips on how to protect your animals and your property. There is also information on the NJDEP website.
Hanja warns about coyotes that are seen.
“If it shows no fear and it is the middle of the day, it might be looking for a hand-out. Never feed a coyote deliberately or even unintentionally. Securing animals, garbage, and if you feed pets outside, don’t leave bowls out at night," said Hanja.
Hanja explains it is important not to let the coyote habituate, which means to have the coyote think of your home as the place it will get its meals from now on.
“If people report hearing a coyote at night, but never see it, that’s great. That’s what it is supposed to do. Let it hunt, do its thing," said Hanja.
Caroline Owens of the Upper Deerfield Environmental Commission added there have been lots of people interested in coyotes.
“People are afraid of coyotes. They don’t understand why they’re helpful,” said Owens. “They are the only predator for deer and wild turkeys. The water in the Cohansey River is compromised because of the storm water runoff, it lashes with it everything on the way, turkey droppings and deer droppings. We have too many of them. We need to have that population controlled.”
Owens explained the benefit of coyotes is that they are helping to control this overpopulation. However, she recognizes that others in the community have concerns about the potential danger of coyotes to pets, livestock, and even young children. Hence the name of the program will allow residents and farmers to ask that question.
“This speaker is an expert. He can answer all your questions. Here’s a chance to learn how to protect yourself,” said Owens.
Sandra Morrissey, also on the Upper Deerfield Environmental Commission, explained they try to choose topics that the public is interested in. She rattled off some of the other topics they have covered: “Backyard Habitats; Stream Protection/Stream Buffers; Climate Change; GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms); Well Water; and Septic Systems.”
Morrissey, who has been on the Commission for a decade, said there are seven people on the committee. They are hoping this program addresses an environmental hot topic for the area.
For more information on coyotes, visit state.nj.us/dep/fgw/coyote_info.htm, or if you would like to attend the workshop, you can find the information on our community calendar.