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Coyote management plan passes despite concerns

Friday, November 21, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

The Austin City Council approved the contentious city coyote management plan Thursday evening, to a loud round of applause and a few woofs of approval from community members sitting in the audience.

“This may not be the last word on coyotes, but it does portend a very good effort on the part of many in the community to address the issues in a collaborative way,” Council Member Chris Riley said. “It represents a very good step forward in managing coyotes while still respecting our role as a no-kill capital of the country.”

The plan, almost a year in the making, permits the removal of coyotes from an area if one attacks a pet or human. It also bans chemical control, neck snares and steel-jawed leg traps, unless used by city staff or by those with an approved permit from the Parks and Recreation or Watershed Protection Departments. establishes a process for removing coyotes that are aggressive or dangerous, and guidelines for establishing which coyotes warrant removal.

The plan also calls for the city to institute a coyote “hazing” policy with an added public education component. Hazing, a type of fear conditioning, reshapes coyote behavior to avoid humans through actions like yelling or waving arms at the coyote, dousing it with water hoses and throwing small objects in its general direction.

The Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee met in late October and approved a plan to recommend to the full Council that would have also banned steel-jawed leg traps and replaced them with monitored live box traps. Captured coyotes would be taken to the Austin Animal Shelter and euthanized.

But Austin has been touted as the largest no-kill city in the U.S. and is the largest city in the U.S. — and the first in Texas — to be a National Wildlife Federation-certified community wildlife habitat. The city has already adopted a no-kill policy for white-tailed deer, and the city charter prohibits shooting, killing or trapping of wildlife without a permit issued by the city or a city employee acting within assigned duties.

After the October meeting, the Public Health and Human Services Committee adapted the plan further to remove the trapping limitations and allowance for euthanasia and giving city staff, with the help of trained wildlife professionals, the sole responsibility for making the determination to remove a coyote if it is deemed a threat to public safety.

Director of Animal Services Abigail Smith said that she had worked on the adapted policy with representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wildlife Services unit of the Texas Cooperative Extension and Travis County, which provide both general animal services to areas of Austin and the county.

“The program has been running for the past nine years. We still lose pets, but we keep the people safe,” said Smith.

Opponents of the plan said they were worried about the allowed use of the steel-jawed leg traps, and that the push for a no-kill policy would continue the prevalence of coyotes in areas where pets and small children play, endangering them.

Joyce Statz, president of the Northwest Austin Civic Association, took issue with the new behavior classification guide that ranks the severity of a coyote-human interaction and details the appropriate response.

At the lowest level, if a coyote is heard by a member of the public, the guide classifies it as an “observation” and would respond by disseminating educational materials and information on normal coyote behavior within the area. At the highest coyote “attack” level, a coyote biting or injuring a person without provocation, the city would identify and gather information on the specific coyote, educate the concerned citizens on hazing and pet management, and would offer to perform a yard or neighborhood audit.

“This doesn’t look like a very effective scale when used by city professionals and those who are guiding our neighborhoods,” Statz said. “We have people who are seeing coyotes in our parks and in our schoolyards, and parents are not very happy about that.” She offered a more “proactive” response guide to better monitor and “manage the aggressiveness of the coyote community.”

The plan passed Council 6-1, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting against, expressing similar concerns for small child and animal safety.

“My wife has a 12-year-old cat that’s partially feral. It spends a lot of time outside,” he said. “I know my wife worries every day because I know we have coyotes near where I live and I don’t want to have to explain to her, and I don’t want to have to explain to one of my neighbors or somebody else, why I voted for this. Why your family pet was killed, or heavens forbid, a small child.”

This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the latest draft of the management plan

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