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Coyote sightings spark concerns locally, statewide

With a layer of freshly fallen snow glistening under a full moon, a rural Greencastle man sent his shivering dog out into the cold one last time on a recent frigid February night.

The mutt pawed at the ground and sniffed at the snow, contently seeking out a familiar spot in the yard to take care of whatever business had sent him outside in the middle of the night to begin with.

But about 50 feet away, in the shadow of a neighbor’s garage, sudden movement caught the eye of both dog and master.

Too big for a cat, too ugly for a pet, the critter froze as the dog rose up on its hind legs.

“I scooped together some snow,” the man said, “and tossed a snowball in its direction, figuring to scare off what I thought was a neighbor’s cat.”

Instead, what he saw trot away, illuminated under a nearby dusk-to-dawn light, was unmistakably a coyote, he said.

READ MORE: Greencastle Banner-Graphic: Local News: Coyote sightings spark concerns locally, statewide (02/08/15).

Coyotes adjust to landscape, including urban areas

Personal experiences shape our attitudes toward most wildlife. This is especially true for coyotes.

Thoughts range from worthless varmint that should be removed completely to a beautiful creature deserving of protection.

One thing for sure – Indiana is coyote country.

Coyotes are a native species once limited to the prairie regions of western Indiana. Reports of coyotes in Indiana began to increase in the 1970s.

They have adjusted to the landscape changes and now are common in all Indiana counties, including many urban areas. For some Hoosiers, this is old news. For others, the sight of a coyote is new and little is known about how to live with this species.

The DNR has a full list of tips to minimize conflicts with coyotes.

If coyotes can find water and shelter, they will find something to eat. Their natural diet includes berries, birds, vegetation, rabbits, deer fawns, and animal remains, but they mostly eat small mammals such as mice, moles, and voles. Reducing the local rodent populations is a benefit to landowners that is often forgotten when talking about coyotes.

Studies have found that coyotes in urban areas have the same general needs as coyotes in rural areas. Human-supplied food items such as household garbage and garden vegetables, as well as domestic animals and pet food, have become part of their diet.

When there is plenty of food, coyote populations expand quickly. Coyotes breed in January and February, and pups are born in a den during March or April. A litter can be as few as one pup or exceed 10, with the average around five.

Small, undisturbed green spaces are all that coyotes need for a den site. A typical den is made underground with a pie-pan-sized entrance that opens into a larger area.

Coyotes usually form breeding pairs and raise their pups together. Lone coyotes do occur, especially in the fall when younger animals leave to establish their own territory. Breeding pairs will establish a territory and defend this area from other coyotes. Occasionally, yearling coyotes will remain with the breeding pair and new pups. When this occurs, it’s called a “group” rather than a “pack.”

Coyote discussions often revolve around conflicts. In rural areas conflicts include loss of livestock and pets or reaction to a trail camera capturing a coyote hauling off a deer fawn. Urban conflicts are focused on attacks on pets, concerns for safety, and fear of the unknown.

In rural areas across the United States, removal efforts have used toxicants, trapping, shooting, and other techniques to control coyotes, protect livestock, and increase populations of other wildlife. These efforts usually have a high cost and short-term results. In addition, coyotes reproduce quickly, are located throughout the United States, and are highly adaptable, which makes curbing their numbers a challenge.

Coyote populations can be lowered in small areas with focused efforts, but they can bounce back quickly once these efforts are reduced or stopped. In areas where coyote numbers have been lowered, coyotes will breed at younger ages and have larger litters.

Bounty systems were used in Indiana from the late 1800s through the 1970s. These programs had a long history, so wildlife managers were able to evaluate them and identify problems Bounty systems usually covered large areas and didn’t focus on areas of conflict. Fraud was common, with parts of predators needed to claim rewards being transported from different states or counties. In addition, the bounty system called for constant removal, requiring large cash investments with limited or short-term results.

The DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife manages trapping and hunting seasons for coyotes (Oct. 15 through March 15, 2015). The seasons are not meant to remove every animal, but they do provide a good, low-cost way to manage coyotes while giving hunters and trappers opportunities to pursue coyotes.

Coyotes also can be taken outside of these seasons on private land. Landowners may remove a coyote at any time on land they own, or they can provide written permission for others to take coyotes on that land at any time without a permit. This gives landowners the ability to control what happens on their property, even outside of established hunting and trapping seasons.