Coyote management up for discussion in Pitkin County
June 2, 2011
ASPEN – Wildlife experts have been summoned to Aspen to discuss coyote management and conflicts with the animals in the wake of last month’s deadly coyote attack on a local couple’s dog.
Pitkin County commissioners have asked for a briefing on management of the fringe between urban areas and the wild lands that are habitat for coyotes and other wildlife, according to Jon Peacock, county manager. That fringe zone has long resulted in encounters between humans and black bears, foxes, coyotes and other critters, but the attack on a 7-month-old miniature Labradoodle – a coyote snatched the dog on Smuggler Mountain and dragged it to other coyotes – prompts the meeting with state wildlife officials.
The discussion will take place at a joint meeting of commissioners and the county Open Space and Trails board of trustees on June 14. Several Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are expected to attend and the public is welcome, say open space officials.
“What they [commissioners] want is for me to get some experts to come to town to talk to them about what prudent coyote management looks like,” said Dale Will, county open space director.
No particular action is proposed for consideration, though, Peacock noted.
“It may be that we’re managing it perfectly appropriately right now,” he said.
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The owners of the Labradoodle, Richard and Debbie Jelinek of Aspen, have asked open space officials to look into the coyote population, which some Aspenites – particularly pet owners – say has become an issue at the base of Smuggler. The mountain borders Aspen to the northeast. Whether the animals pose a danger to people has been raised, as well.
The attack has spurred a flurry of letters to the editor, many from people who say human encroachment into wild areas means people have to be responsible for themselves and their pets. The Labradoodle, Ginger, was wearing a harness and leash at the time of the attack, but no one was holding onto the leash. Unleashed dogs are allowed on Smuggler Mountain Road, but owners are to have verbal control of their pets and keep them in sight, according to Open Space and Trails rules for the area.
“We’ve been urging the public for years to leash their pets if they want to protect them,” Will said. On occasion, mountain lion activity has prompted warnings to keep pets leashed, particularly along the Rio Grande Trail.
“We’re not anxious to do anything with the coyotes,” Will said. “We want to manage our mountain parks as wild lands with public recreation.”
“If we see any aggression toward humans, that changes the situation significantly,” added Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails land steward.
Will said he’s heard unconfirmed reports of people feeding coyotes at the base of Smuggler, a populated area that includes a number of worker housing complexes.
“If it’s true, we’ve got to figure out who it is and fine them to stop it from happening,” he said.
Open Space and Trails has posted a link to downloadable information on “Living with Coyotes” on its web page. It urges keeping food and garbage inaccessible to wildlife. Pet owners are advised not to let their dogs run with coyotes and to keep dogs leashed. If a coyote approaches, throw rocks or sticks to frighten it away or use an authoritative voice to frighten the animal, the document advises.
According to the information, coyote populations can actually expand rather than decline in response to eradication attempts, though no such effort has been recommended on Smuggler. The popular recreation area contains a mix of city and county open space, private property and Forest Service lands.
Go to http://www.aspenpitkin.com/Departments/Open-Space-Trails/ to find the link to Living with Coyotes.