Atmosphere

Like a Good Neighbor

Coyotes aren't going to disappear from the city any time soon—but we can make them leave us alone.

May 2009

For years we've had a truce with coyotes: If they leave us and our dogs alone, we'll let them roam our parks and snack on slow-footed squirrels and prairie dogs. This winter, though, when they attacked four people in the metro area and killed several dogs, that détente was destroyed. A human uproar ensued. Town meetings were held, the Division of Wildlife fielded calls, and the Greenwood Village City Council even hired a sharpshooter, offering $60 an hour to take down any coyote in a populated territory.

While attacking poodles—not to mention humans—isn't excusable, it's not surprising, since our cities and towns are on the prairie country that coyotes claimed first. "We're building and building, and their area is shrinking," says Sherry James, visitor services manager at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. And we're getting overly friendly, she says, too often feeding the opportunistic animals, which diminishes their fear of humans.

Case in point: About 100 coyotes once roamed the acres of former Stapleton International Airport. When the airport closed in 1995 and was redeveloped, the local prairie dog population was exterminated. Foodless, the coyotes scattered; some fled into the nearby Bluff Lake Nature Center, others headed farther into Denver, including into City Park. The displaced coyotes found plenty of help from their new urban neighbors, who left pet food in yards and cooed at them from a distance. With that kind of hospitality, the critters have had little reason to pack up and leave.

So what's an animal-loving city-dweller to do when a coyote trots into the yard? Stop being so nice. "We know the coyotes in the Front Range aren't treated the way they are in rural areas, where they're shot at and hazed," says Jennifer Churchill, a Division of Wildlife spokeswoman. "We're usually excited about wildlife. Instead of grabbing a rock, stick, or a gun, we grab our cameras." But if Front Rangers stopped feeding the animals and instead learned to harass them with loud noises, coyotes would learn to avoid humans, as they have in cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago. If you spot one of the wily beasts in the 'hood, you can still take a picture—just be sure to follow your snapshot with a holler.

What to Do if You See a Coyote

  • Do not approach the animal.
  • Make eye contact, yell, and wave your arms to appear bigger than you are.
  • Throw sticks and stones at an animal that begins to approach you.
  • If the coyote attacks, fight back and continue screaming at the top of your lungs.