Coyote food removal study meets with early success

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — As shown in a striking set of before-and-after pictures, a Portsmouth neighborhood has experienced a significant drop in coyote traffic thanks to the removal of two food sources provided by community residents.

Two months after being fitted with a GPS collar, a coyote named “Hanks” led researchers from the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS) to two residential sites in Portsmouth where tracking data clearly indicated that feeding was taking place. In the first picture, clusters of GPS locations (dots) and travel vectors (lines) reveal the location of two suspected feeding sites. The blue lines and dots show activity at night, purple at twilight (dawn and dusk), and red during the day.

Before: Two residential coyote-feeding sites in Portsmouth, RI, revealed by location points and travel vectors of a GPS-collared coyote. Tracking period is from April 4 – May 17, 2019. (N. Mitchell, NBCS, The Conservation Agency)

NBCS sent a report to the Portsmouth Police Department and a warning was issued to those at the northern feeding site. NBCS staff, conducting weekly coyote-hotspot surveys, asked the owner of the southern site about possible reasons for coyote action there.

The second photo, taken 3-5 weeks after the residents were put on notice, shows no coyote activity at either site or in the surrounding neighborhoods. According to Dr. Numi Mitchell, lead scientist for NBCS, “the collared animal, and likely his pack members, quickly figured out there is no longer a food reward when going to either residence. Coyote traffic has dropped and the risk of people or pets encountering a coyote has been greatly reduced by removing the food subsidies.”

After: The same neighborhood after coyote feeding is stopped. Coyote travel drops out across entire neighborhood. Tracking period is from June 5 – 20, 2019, 3-5 weeks after warnings were issued. (N. Mitchell, NBCS, The Conservation Agency)

After many years of accumulating anecdotal evidence, the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study is now, with federal funding and in partnership with the RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), conducting food subsidy removal experiments with cooperating communities such as Portsmouth. “It is our job,” says Mitchell, “to provide scientific data that show (if we prevail) that coyote populations and coyote behavior can be controlled by managing human-generated food subsidies. This was our first experiment with stopping residential feeding – and the results so far are pretty dramatic.”

Since NBCS can’t track everywhere, Mitchell encourages communities with coyote traffic like the Portsmouth neighborhood above to take the lead from her findings.

Residents are advised to keep an eye out for food subsidies such as open compost piles, pet feeding outdoors, free range chickens, feral cat feeding, or even intentional coyote feeding. As she says, “you will know there are easy pickings being offered when coyotes start hanging around.”

Providing food attractants for coyotes is illegal under state regulations and RIDEM will issue fines to offenders. It is also prohibited under some local ordinances like the one Portsmouth and the other Aquidneck Island communities have adopted. Enforcement is often simply a matter of an educational visit, although a citation or town assistance with farm issues such as livestock carcass removal may sometimes be required.

For more information about the coyote research project, please visit the NBCS website at theconservationagency.org/coyote or the Coyote Research page at coyotesmarts.org.

CoyoteSmarts is a public information initiative of the Potter League for Animals, Aquidneck Land Trust, Norman Bird Sanctuary, The Conservation Agency, and the RI Natural History Survey—a group of Rhode Island organizations that have come together to address the growing presence of coyotes on Aquidneck Island and throughout the state.

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