2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Coyote attacks cause Colorado Springs residents to question wildlife policies

Published: May 30, 2013, 12:01 am, by Bill Vogrin
053013 Side Streets 1

Joan Wolford of Rockrimmon  carries an 8-ounce air horn whenever she goes outside with her toy poodles, Duffy and Clancy. She has chased off coyotes, treed bears and even protected herself from a guy who tried to rob her in Texas with the air horn.

Readers are sounding off about the recent coyote attacks on two preschoolers in a popular Colorado Springs park.

John Mims of Village Seven neighborhood told me coyotes are becoming a common sight on the Homestead Trail and he’s disappointed in the seeming indifference displayed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials to reports of the predators near playgrounds.

Cindy Dyer who lives in the Holiday Village Mobile Home Park near Goose Gossage Youth Sports Complex where the children were attacked told me coyotes have been a growing concern.

“I don’t take my dog out without carrying bear mace,” she said via email. “The enjoyment of being outside in my yard with my dog has been ruined by having to be on guard continually for a possible attack.”

Coyote poster 3Soccer dad Dennis Mesward reports confronting an aggressive coyote while walking with his golden retriever at Gossage.

“I was surprised how brazen this coyote was as he stood 15 feet in front of us and was creeping toward us,” Mesward said in a Facebook message. “Definitely no fear of humans.”

Phill Pollard posted on Facebook that his wife, Candy, fought off the first coyote attack in the park and alerted authorities.

“But they didn’t do anything,” Pollard said. “She even predicted there would be someone else hurt by that animal.”

Of course, a second child was mauled by a coyote a short time later, triggering a fullscale hunt that resulted in two adult coyotes being killed by CPW officers at the park along Monument Creek north of Fillmore Street.

Coyote posterOn Wednesday,  I called the agency to learn lab results of the coyotes’ remains and to give wildlife officials a chance to respond to complaints they’ve been slow to act.

Jennifer Churchill

Jennifer Churchill

The good news is that neither coyote tested positive for rabies, said Jennifer Churchill, wildlife agency spokeswoman. So the two young victims won’t face long, painful rabies treatments.

Whew!

But Churchill also delivered some news that will not please those who want coyotes driven out of city neighborhoods and parks.

“There’s no way you can remove all coyotes from an area,” Churchill said. “If you have the habitat, you are going to have coyotes.”

And the state isn’t interested in spending thousands of dollars to trap and remove “good” coyotes from cities, she said.

Instead, Churchill said it’s time for community conversations in Colorado Springs and every city in Colorado about how to deal with urban coyotes.

“It’s an issue for everybody,” Churchill said. “It’s up to us — citizens, the city, the Parks and Wildlife department — to meet and decide what our level of tolerance is and what we want to do about coyotes.”

She noted that coyotes can be hunted year round in Colorado with a small game license. Ranchers and landowners in unincorporated areas can shoot them, if they like. But not in cities.

Coyote poster 2In urban areas, there are no easy answers to coyotes. They have adapted to urban environments, especially where there are greenbelts and open spaces for them to hunt and den.

Coyotes aren’t a problem as long as they remain scared of humans. But the problems develop when people feed them or when coyotes hunt pet dogs and cats.

“We’ve spent five years looking at all the research on coyotes,” she said. “We’re trying to have this conversation with cities and counties. What can we allow people to do in cities when it comes to coyotes?”

Especially when they become comfortable around humans.

“We want people to be chasing them out of their neighborhoods,” Churchill said. “We need to enjoy wildlife from a distance. Don’t yield your own backyard to coyotes. Don’t yield the space under your porch to their den. Make sure you are not welcoming them.”

Most important, she said, is your reaction when you see coyotes.

“Coyotes see dogs as a possible threat, possible prey or a possible mate,” she said. “You need to protect your pets. Keep them on leashes and near you. And haze coyotes whenever you see them. Respect them enough to keep them wild.”

Duffy and Clancy are toy poodles and the best friends of Joan Wolford of Rockrimmon neighborhood. She protects them with an air horn whenever they are outside.

Duffy and Clancy are toy poodles and the best friends of Joan Wolford of Rockrimmon neighborhood. She protects them with an air horn whenever they are outside.

Which brings me to Joan Wolford, a native of Colorado Springs and longtime resident of Rockrimmon with her husband, Leland Wolford, a retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot.

Wolford said she learned a dozen years ago the best way to deal with coyotes and other wildlife who roam her backyard and neighborhood. It’s not a gun. Or pepper spray. Or even a big stick.

“I carry an 8-ounce can of signal horn,” Wolford said. “It’s 150 decibels and it works.

“I have run off coyotes, bear, deer, dogs and even a guy who tried to rob me down in Texas once.”

She carries the air horn on shoestring around her wrist whenever she goes out with her toy poodles Duffy and Clancy.

“I’ve had coyotes come out of the creek at me,” she said. “I’ve been able to fend them off with my signal horn. I have treed bears with it. A mama and two cubs. They all went up a tree and stayed there a couple hours.”

Wolford said she waits until the wild animals get close, aims the air horn at their heads and lets them have it.

Joan Wolford carries an 8-ounce air horn with her whenever she is outdoors with her dogs, Duffy and Clancy, to scare off wild animals.

Joan Wolford carries an 8-ounce air horn with her whenever she is outdoors with her dogs, Duffy and Clancy, to scare off wild animals.

“It doesn’t work from too far away,” she said. “Blast them at head level. It really works. Pepper spray doesn’t do any good. And the purse-size can of signal horn failed me. I use the big one. It costs about $16 in the boating department at Walmart. It’s good, cheap protection.”

Actually, wildlife officials agree that loud noise is a good deterrent to coyotes.

But Churchill stressed that any coyote acting aggressively toward humans needs to be reported.

“That’s not something we take lightly,” she said. “We see pet attacks differently. But coyotes being aggressive to people need to go.”

A coyote runs across a field behind Frank VerHey's backyard Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. VerHey's little dog, Joey, nearly died in December when a coyote snatched him out of VerHey's yard on North Cascade Avenue . (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

A coyote runs across a field behind Frank VerHey’s backyard Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. VerHey’s little dog, Joey, nearly died in December when a coyote snatched him out of VerHey’s yard on North Cascade Avenue . (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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