DOW in Aspen: Haze brazen coyotes
June 15, 2011
ASPEN – Hazing is the best way for Aspenites to deal with brazen coyotes, according to Kevin Wright, area wildlife officer with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Wright and a contingent of his DOW colleagues met Tuesday with Pitkin County commissioners and the county’s Open Space and Trails board of trustees to talk about coyotes in the wake of last month’s coyote attack on a dog on Smuggler Mountain Road near Aspen.
Such incidents are not unusual, according to Wright.
“It happens all over. It’s not uncommon for coyotes to take pets,” he said.
Coyotes are found throughout the country (except Hawaii) and the Roaring Fork Valley, according to Wright, describing the species as highly adaptable, intelligent and opportunistic.
“I guarantee you there are coyotes right here in downtown Aspen,” he said.
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Small mammals make up 70 percent of a coyote’s diet, including mice and voles, according to Wright.
“They don’t really distinguish between a wild animal and a domestic animal,” he said. “Generally, if it’s a smaller animal, it’s prey.”
Sometimes coyotes will approach a dog playfully, then lure it back to a pack, where it is killed, according to Wright. In the Smuggler incident, a coyote snatched the 7-month-old miniature Labradoodle and dragged it to other coyotes.
The Labradoodle was leashed, but no one was holding onto it. Wright was hesitant to guess whether the incident would have been avoided, had someone been holding onto the leash. A coyote den was nearby, he noted.
But in general, Wright said he prefers to see pets leashed when they’re on public trails – a step that protects wildlife and also the pet. Unleashed dogs are permitted on Smuggler; they’re to be under sight and voice control.
Humans are a coyote’s only real predator in most places, Wright said, and in Colorado, it’s open season on coyotes year-round for those who hold a small-game hunting license. People are allowed to kill a nuisance coyote that is damaging their property even without a hunting license. A special permit is needed to use leg-hold traps, which are otherwise against the law, for nuisance coyotes.
“The state of Colorado is fairly liberal as far as what can be done with coyotes,” he said.
Feeding coyotes and foxes, however, is against the law. The practice can make the animals unafraid and aggressive toward humans, said Wright, urging the public to report such activities to the DOW. The agency will euthanize a coyote that threatens or attacks people, he said.
Wright said he has received a report of someone feeding the animals near Red Butte on the edge of Aspen.
Attempts to eradicate coyotes are unsuccessful, Wright said, though no county officials advocated such an approach. The animals will compensate by having larger litters, Wright explained.
To keep coyotes leery of humans, Wright said people should haze the animals when they approach – yell, throw rocks or sticks, or shoot water at them from a garden hose, he advised.
“Make them fear you. Make them fear your space,” he said.
Open Space board member Howie Mallory pondered whether people would begin carrying guns and shooting coyotes when they encounter them.
“I don’t know if, all of a sudden, we’re going to have a bunch of gun-toting people hiking up Smuggler. I hope that won’t happen,” Wright responded.
There are hunting regulations on open space, he added, though hunting is permitted on Forest Service lands.
Brochures on avoiding human-coyote conflicts are available at a sign kiosk at the base of Smuggler Mountain Road, and information on living with coyotes is available at both http://www.wildlife.state.co.us and http://www.aspenpitkin.com/Departments/Open-Space-Trails/.