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Council to finally get controversial coyote plan

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

A new coyote management policy will be brought to the Austin City Council in November, following a nine-month-long and somewhat controversial process.

The policy was most recently before City Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday.

In 2013, some Austin residents who were worried about coyote sightings in the Blunn Creek watershed complained to the city. Central Austinites then found out that coyotes in their neighborhoods were being inhumanely trapped and killed. In December, the Humane Society of the United States sent a representative to meet with the Austin Animal Advisory Commission about the coyote problem.

Next, the advisory commission formed a working group to study alternative, more humane methods of coyote conflict management. And in June, Council Member Chris Riley brought forward a resolution directing the city manager to adopt a coyote conflict management strategy and coyote behavior classification chart.

The working group met for months, heard from more than 100 citizens and wildlife experts, and held numerous public meetings to discuss the issue.

But the final recommendation is somewhat less progressive than a previous policy that had been pulled from the Council agenda in August, postponed until a September meeting, and then withdrawn on consent at that meeting because the Animal Advisory Commission still had not reached an agreement.

The first policy allowed a coyote’s removal only if it attacked humans, said Animal Advisory Commission Chair David Lungstedt. The most recent proposed policy, however, permits removal of a coyote if it attacks a pet.

The newer policy bans steel-jaw and padded-leghold traps in favor of live-release box traps that would be monitored twice a day. Coyotes caught in the box traps would be euthanized at the Austin Animal Center. The policy also bans the use of neck snares and chemical coyote control.

In addition, the city would institute a public education and coyote “hazing” policy, meant to minimize incidents and lethal coyote removals. Hazing, or fear conditioning, is the reshaping of coyote behavior so they avoid contact with humans and pets. Hazing includes yelling, waving arms, dousing with water hoses, throwing small objects, squirting water guns and other actions meant to show coyotes they are not welcome around humans.

Most coyote attacks are due to “dumb human behavior,” Lungstedt said. “Not only do you need to educate the coyotes to be scared of humans again, but you need to educate the humans on what to do if they live around coyotes as far as leaving food out, letting your cat roam out at night and keeping your dog on a leash.”

Some citizens are still concerned that coyotes will be killed at all. Since 2011, Austin has been one of the largest no-kill cities in the U.S.

Oak Hill resident Marnie Reeder said she was “extremely disappointed and shocked” that the proposed policy allowed for the lethal removal of coyotes.

“We love all our greenbelts and our parks and our wonderful trees, neighborhoods and hills,” said Reeder. “We love being a wildlife habitat city and a no-kill city. So let’s choose. Let’s live with the coyotes and wildlife, or let’s pave it over. Let’s keep Austin wild, weird and wonderful.”

Others, such as South Austin resident Michael Fossum, thinks the policy doesn’t go far enough.

He said there are no peer-reviewed studies that show hazing is an effective way to keep coyotes from harming humans, but there are studies showing the effectiveness of lethal options.

“(The suggested changes) actually raise the bar before lethal options are used,” Fossum said. “This increases the chance that someone will be injured before approving a lethal method is used to remove an aggressive coyote.”

A majority of the 15 citizens signed up to speak were in attendance to support the policy.

Katie Jarl, Texas state director of the Humane Society for the United States, came forward in support of the policy.

“I’m contacted all the time by other states, other cities looking to implement progressive animal policies using Austin as a model,” Jarl said, noting that representatives from Rockville, Illinois, contacted her a month ago about a coyote management policy and voted this week to enact Austin’s previous policy draft as part of their city’s coyote protocol.

At the Health and Human Services Committee meeting, Riley and fellow Council Members Mike Martinez and Laura Morrison passed the motion to recommend the newer policy. It is scheduled to go before City Council at their Nov. 6 meeting.

This story has been corrected to reflect the correct date that the management plan will be before City Council.

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