City discusses coyote solutions
For most people in the U.S., the only coyote they’ve ever seen has been on television, a creature which spends its days concocting elaborate schemes to catch the roadrunner.
But for residents of Lake Tahoe – particularly those people flying in and out of the local airport – life with coyotes is no cartoon. Although they have a reputation of being shy, retiring animals, a new breed of urban coyote is learning to thrive among humans in many areas of the nation, the South Lake Tahoe area included.
A rash of biting incidents in the casino area has forced El Dorado County Animal Control and Nevada Animal Damage Control officials to destroy 19 coyotes since March. This action was taken in response to several incidents in which seven people were bitten. Over the Memorial Day weekend, one tourist was bitten in the thigh while walking in the Caesars Tahoe parking lot.
And now, coyotes are causing a ruckus at the Lake Tahoe Airport. Flights have been delayed and, even canceled, due to coyotes lolling about on the runway. The animals have even been seen chasing planes as they taxi for takeoff.
“In May we were cited by the FAA to find a remedy for the coyote situation,” said airport public information director Janis Brand. “It’s a safety issue that needs to be addressed quickly.”
On Wednesday, South Lake Tahoe Mayor Judy Brown and City Manager Kerry Miller presided over a meeting with airport officials to discuss the situation. Also on hand was Cheryl Millham, executive director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Inc.
“We came up with several short- and long-term goals,” said Brown. “The short-term goals involve removing some of the coyotes to bring the population down to a manageable level. The long-term goals involve blocking their dens and removing their access to the property.
“Coyotes are smart little guys, so it won’t be easy.”
The coyote, which is actually a breed of wild dog, lives in family units of several individuals, with usually only one breeding pair per unit. At least two coyote families have taken over drainage pipe inlets near the airport to use as dens. One plan calls for closing off those inlets.
Brown also said that approximately 215 access points have been identified around the airport fence, where coyotes have breached by either digging under or climbing over.
“Short-term goals involve trapping the puppies and giving them to (Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care) to relocate,” Brown said. “Also, we could have professionals trap some of the adults.”
Whether removal of adult animals would involve killing them is not clear at this point. The use of leg-hold traps was recently banned in California, making the prospect of capturing an adult coyote for relocation very difficult.
“The use of pepper spray was also suggested,” Brown said. “But I don’t want untrained (airport personnel) running around the airport with pepper spray. The aim is not to injure the animals.”
The FAA had mandated that the city solve its coyote problem at the airport by June. That deadline, obviously, wasn’t met.
“An FAA official was out at the airport yesterday, and he basically said he didn’t care how we solve the problem, as long as it’s solved,” Brown said.
“The coyote population tends to fluctuate, but the Tahoe area is at or above holding capacity,” said Nevada Animal Damage Control State Director Bob Brown. “One of the reasons is that there is no longer a fur market. There used to be trapping in this area because coyote furs brought $125 each.
“Also, this is an area with a plentiful food supply. Once coyotes figure out that food is available and that man is no threat, they will lose their nocturnal habits and lose their fear of being seen. We took 19 of the boldest coyotes out of the casino area, and still we didn’t get them all.”
Beach cautioned, however, that eradication is not the answer.
“We need some kind of management and education plan,” he said. “Destroying them doesn’t seem to work anyway.”
“These animals are bold as the dickens,” Brown said. “I was driving to work last week, and there was a coyote standing in the middle of Tata Lane, staring at me. I stopped, and it just looked at me for about two minutes, before trotting off. They’re all over up here.
“As mayor, I would hate to have a microphone thrust into my face and be asked to explain an accident at the airport involving a coyote. But the challenge will be to find a humane solution. I don’t want to see the coyotes injured.”
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