Friday, August 10, 2012
Coyotes on the prowl
Most people don't associate the animal with the SML area, but there are enough of them here that Franklin County is offering a bounty of $25 per carcass.
When two of Roger Atkins' neighbors disagreed about the existence of coyotes in the lake area, Atkins agreed to let his taxidermied coyote be placed on the skeptical neighbor's back porch. He also loaned his electronic coyote call to complete the April Fools' charade.
Atkins said he shot the coyote several years earlier in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County. Since then, he has seen several more of the animals lurking in the area.
Meanwhile, at Bernard's Landing, an exchange was under way between father and son over the identity of the creature skulking on the side of Scruggs Road. Richard Brown soon conceeded that what he mistakenly took to be a gray fox was indeed a coyote, having seen one on a visit to Arizona.
"I don't imagine it was eating too well," he said.
Karl Martin of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said he understands the confusion surrounding the existence of coyotes at SML and across the state.
"It's unusual ... for a lot of people who moved here from other states, to think about Virginia with coyotes, because generations of people never heard them or saw them," said Martin. "They're not something new; it's the fact that they are new to some people."
Since the middle of the 20th century, coyotes have steadily advanced into the eastern United States, pushing their way into Virginia until populating every county.
"[There are] probably 50,000 around the state," said Mike Fies, wildlife research biologist with VDGIF, "and that's a conservative estimate."
The close proximity to humans can create problems for both species.
Coyotes are omnivores. In nature, their diet consists of rodents and mid-sized animals such as fawns, as well as fruit and insects.
Near agricultural areas, coyotes have been known to prey on sheep and lambs, causing them to be classified as a "nuisance species" in Virginia localities such as Franklin County, where bounties are offered.
The county has set aside $2,500 a year for the bounty, with citizens receiving $25 for every coyote carcass brought to the Franklin County Animal Shelter. Last year, 97 coyotes were turned in for the bounty, according to Dana Miller of the Franklin County Department of Public Safety.
Cedric Short, general manager of Blue Ridge Wildlife Management in Roanoke, a company that specializes in the trapping and removal of nuisance species, said he occasionally receives calls from concerned lake residents about coyote sightings.
"With coyotes, when you are dealing with residential properties with such small lots right up against the lake, a lot of times, it's usually an animal passing through," Short said. "It's not necessarily ... an animal taking up residence on that particular property."
Fies said that residents need to identify what's attracting coyotes. One way of discouraging them is to secure your trash.
"Make absolutely certain to not encourage them," Fies said. "Some people think it's cute to feed them, but that only makes them bold, and in that case, dangerous."
For the most part, Fies said, citizens should not be alarmed. The scarcity of reports relative to the large numbers of coyotes residing in the state is "testament to the fact that 99 percent of them are causing no issues whatsoever," he added.
"They can't be gotten rid of," Fies said. "They're here to stay, and we got to learn to live with them."