[Article by contributing writer and North Bend resident Melissa Grant, who also volunteers for Bear Smart, WA and is a pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]
I really thought we were done with the local wildlife articles, but it seems this year sightings of our wildlife neighbors has increased. Just look at various Snoqualmie Valley Facebook groups and the pictures seem to be posted daily: bobcats on back patios, front porches and on fence rails; bears tipping garbage cans and strolling down sidewalks as early as 7-8PM. There’s also been reports of a brazen coyote in the Jacobia and Snoqualmie Parkway area.
Snoqualmie resident Lindsey Lynd recently had a bobcat on her front porch and bear in her yard. [See videos below.] She said she would expect this more if she lived on a greenbelt, but her home is on a crowded interior street with a high population density.
Why more sightings
Experts say there are some reasons why we may be seeing our critter friends more frequently this year. The number one reason is most often attractants (garbage, pet food, barbeques, fruit trees, etc.). They are also getting ready for winter and the hot, dry summer may have contributed to a food shortage.
In previous articles we discussed the elk herd, cougars, birds and bears, but we forgot to address our local Canis Latrans – more commonly known as coyotes. So here we go.
Read our earlier article about identifying and tips if you encounter local wildlife HERE.
When the Americas were colonized, coyotes were mostly confined to the western plains and arid parts of the country. Wolves occupied the forests. Since then coyotes have taken advantage of the reduction in wolf populations and our growing population to now occupy every state in the nation except for Hawaii. Highly adaptable, they live in every habitat that we humans do – from forest to the downtown waterfront.
In Washington coyotes look like a sort of small shepherd mix with a thick bushy coat in shades of brown, yellow, gray and rust. They average anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds, with the males being slightly larger than the females. They live in the wild about as long as a domestic dog, 14 years. They are solitary animals, in monogamous pairs or in small family groups, with territories as small as two miles or as large as 40 miles. They are called “song dogs” for their wide variety of yips, growls, whines and howls.
Coyotes are opportunistic scavengers and hunters, meaning they will eat anything the can capture or find. They prefer to eat wild, but will eat garbage, poultry, pet food and pets (mostly cats). They will occasionally kill domestic dogs (and foxes) if they view them as a territorial invader. They hunt mostly at night, but will hunt during the day if undisturbed.
My coyote encounter
I had very little contact with these small native canids until about three years ago. I was walking two large dogs on a trail on Cougar Mountain and a coyote pup happened along the trail in front of us. I saw him a couple of seconds before the dogs did, thought he would quickly run back into the thick woods like most of the wildlife I see – and I would continue along my way.
Imagine my shock when he just kept coming our direction. He was a cute little thing, cocking his head back and forth as the two dogs snarled and lunged. “Any second he’ll run,” I thought as I struggled to maintain my balance and hang on to the dogs. Nope, he kept coming. Eventually I lost my balance and slipped on the trail (in what I think was an extreme ballerina pointe) breaking my leg. I guess that was finally enough to scare him away.
It was some time before I was back to walking dogs on mountain trails, so I had time to mull that experience over. It was unlike any wildlife encounter I had ever had. I found that coyotes are typically curious, but timid animals, who will run away if challenged. My guess is the one I encountered was either too young to know better, or so habituated to humans – which occurs when animals are exposed to the same stimuli repeatedly, and eventually stop responding to that stimulus- that he stopped fearing humans.
When animals stop seeing humans as threats, they can unintentionally be hurt by humans. They can also be a danger to us (boy did I find that out) by allowing us to get too close. When startled, an animal can feel threatened and bite, claw, kick or charge humans. But naturally, an animal would never allow a human to come close enough to feel threatened.
Snoqualmie Ridge Coyote Sightings
Lately we’ve had a rash of coyote sightings in different Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhoods. There has been considerable concern for the safety of pets and children. Many pictures of these animals have been showing up on social media and calls for something to be done because the animals seem very bold.
I’m afraid that’s our fault.
First off, seeing a coyote in daylight hours is not a cause for alarm. They are probably looking to feed their families just like we do. A coyote who displays no fear of humans has likely been fed by humans. Probably not intentionally (although I did know a waitress at Denny’s years ago who would feed them milk bones), but we all need to be responsible with our attractants. Pet food should never be outside and garbage should be secured. It’s that simple. Tell your neighbors, tell your friends. Help our wildlife stay wild.
So what do we do about the coyotes that are already habituated like my little friend on Cougar Mountain? There has been talk of killing the coyote, which is legal but ONLY if it is threatening you, your family or your pets within city limits. But understand attempts to eradicate the coyote have happened for centuries and they respond by breeding MORE. Under normal circumstances, only the alpha pair breeds. But if something happens, the pack responds by forming more pair bonds and in a year or two you have more coyotes.
The seemingly kinder approach of relocating the coyote has also been tossed about, but in the end it is not a more humane approach. Relocated animals, not knowing the area, are often killed by cars, in territorial disputes with other animals or just in an attempt to get back home.
How we can help Keep Wildlife wild
So what can we do? Trust me, I know how tempting it is to see an animal, want to drink in the experience and take pictures. I saw a long line of cars snapping away at a Momma bear and her cub last spring. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong thing to do. That long line of cars should have been honking and flashing their brights at mom and baby making her understand that Snoqualmie Parkway on a sunny spring day is the last place she wants to be.
We need to haze the coyotes and convince them that our neighborhoods are a bad place for them. I personally now carry a small stun gun when I’m out in the woods. It was not intended for use on an animal, but to scare off an animal and keep my bones intact. It makes a funny noise and has a scary strobe that, so far, has made everything run away. Including my dog. You can buy air horns on Amazon or fill soda cans with pennies. If you’re at home, bang pots and pans together, spray them with a hose. Yell, wave your arms, stomp your feet make yourself look large and scary. Spray them with bear or pepper spray. If it doesn’t work the first time, keep it up convince them to leave
Remember: the chance of a local wildlife attack is extremely slim. Please, help our wildlife stay wild. We moved here. We have a responsibility to peacefully coexist with the creatures who were here before us. They will always be here, but they don’t have to be a problem.
What about all those bear sightings in Snoqualmie and North?
Tips from the Department of Fish and Wildlife if you encounter a bear:
- Stay calm and avoid direct eye contact, which could elicit a charge. Try to stay upwind and identify yourself as a human by standing up, talking and waving your hands above your head.
- Do not approach the bear, particularly if cubs are present. Give the bear plenty of room.
- If you cannot safely move away from the bear, and the animal does not flee, try to scare it away by clapping your hands or yelling.
- If the bear attacks, fight back aggressively. As a last resort, should the attack continue, protect yourself by curling into a ball or lying on the ground on your stomach and playing dead.