Council And Public Debate Coyote Control Plan For Sanibel

by SC Writer Jan Holly

City Council and an aroused public engaged in a passionate debate over the management of Sanibel’s growing coyote problem at its meeting Jan. 7 at City Hall. The discussion was sparked by The Coyote Management and Education Plan prepared by the City of Sanibel’s Natural Resources Department.

As outlined by Natural Resources Director James Evans and Deputy Director Holly Millbrandt, the plan is designed “to assist in effectively and humanely preventing and solving conflicts between coyotes, people, and pets.”

The Plan stipulates that successful management depends in part on “education and awareness of residents. Education is the key to empowering residents to make appropriate decisions regarding their safety and managing their property and pets,” the Plan recommends. “This involves decreasing food attractants, taking precautions with pets and creating tolerance of normal coyote behavior. The educational campaign should focus on how residents can coexist with coyotes successfully.”

According to Evans, the plan is based on “the best available science and data throughout the state and country. There are not a lot of formal programs out there,” Evans said, adding, “this plan is consistent with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s best practices.”

The plan argues against culling of the coyote population. “Lethal control is a potential tool,” Evans said. “Non-selective coyote removal programs are unsuccessful, but targeted removal of individual coyotes may be warranted.”

Evans gave strong support for the document. “I stand by the report. It is a policy document in the end. It will do the job and help us manage coyotes on Sanibel.”

Islanders raising concerns during public comment were less sanguine about the benefits of the Plan. “The Plan has the best intentions, but we need more responsible results and outcomes,” said one homeowner, who also reported that coyotes have been seen, during the day, within 10 feet of a playground in her neighborhood.

“Dogs are not safe,” she said, “and my grandson and I have been followed by coyotes many times.”

Islander Georgianne Nienaber, taking the opposing position, praised the plan as “excellent. It has been implemented across the country. Culling is not effective. It can increase population. We have learned to live with alligators, but coyotes are new to Sanibel.”

Islander Bob Holder questioned the plan’s data and conclusions. “According to the plan, the problem is not the coyotes, but people needing training. I am looking for data on the population. What is the range of population today that is giving rise to coyote encounters? Is it true that coyotes are a positive force? None of this is addressed.”

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Executive Director Ryan Orgera acknowledged that “we do need to know more. We should embrace this plan as the logical first step as best use of funds.

“Indiscriminate culling will absolutely lead to a larger population,” Orgera added. “I admit that’s a hard sell. But the science is clear. It is not comforting. We should take the steps that hundreds of other communities have tried.”

Barbara Joy Cooley, chair of the Committee of the Islands’ Environment Committee, praised the City “for this first step. I hope we can gather more information. With rabbits here, coyotes will be here. Thank you for the cautious and scientific approach.”

Councilman Richard Johnson cited Council’s responsibility to protect “the personal safety of our citizenry, and we have a problem. I hear this loud and clear,” he said, pointing to education “as Number One on my list. We have an opportunity to learn more.

“Thank you to our Natural Resources folks,” he added. “We charged them with bringing this plan to us very quickly. We should look at the plan and use it as a first step. We must keep children and pets safe. We have had problems in the past with alligators, but alligators are confined to water. Coyotes have free range over island.”

Councilwoman Holly Smith argued against culling. “Culling gives an unintended false sense of security. I want to learn more about this plan. This is our start,” she said, “where we go before we make a drastic decision to eliminate the species. Moving forward on the plan is where we should start.”

Mayor Kevin Ruane recalled Holder’s pointed question about coyote population size. “The question is valid. How many do we have? Are we producing more by culling? Are we producing more by not doing something? Both sides are passionate. I am not trying to advance a cause. I worry about safety and welfare. We have a lot more to do.”

Councilman Jason Maughan made an impassioned argument about public safety concerns. “Public safety must dominate. Coyotes are not natural on the Island. Residents tell me they are terrified abut walking on the island. That sets off alarm bells.

“This is a plan for Chicago and New York. At best, it is a biased conclusion. The plan is to say that culling is not the answer. I support culling. The people who don’t want to cull are the drafters of the plan—for a no-cull plan. This is not what I expect the staff to prepare and present. There is no reference whatsoever to culling on barrier islands. I would like to hear from experts and to hear both sides. This is the Humane Society’s agenda. Coyotes are not shy on this Island. They are unscared of people. I will not stand by and say that every animal has to win, and certainly not for an invader.”

Ruane concluded the discussion by recommending that the City look to other barrier islands for data. “This is a good first step, but a baby step. It is a step we asked of the City in three weeks’ time. We have to go down the education and research path. We don’t have a silver bullet. But we must address comprehensively. I think I hear this from the people and from across the dais. We need to give staff next steps to accomplish.

Maughan recommended looking specifically to North and South Carolina “for barrier island landscapes. Let’s see what they did. We must read about turtle-friendly barrier islands, the Carolinas.”

At the discussion’s conclusion, Ruane recommended that the coyote threat become “a recurring item on [Council’s] agenda, to hear regularly whatever progress Natural Resources has made. As you give us guidance we will give you guidance.”

Comments (8)

  1. I think studies on “culling” show that nature responses by increasing breeding and more kits, pups, whatever.

  2. Jason Maughan is right! Culling on an island as small as ours has to be the answer. After the coyotes are eradicated we need to be made aware of further sightings and take care of other coyotes that arrive. We are TOO SMALL and Island to have the huge numbers that are having “pups” each year. Soon there will be a confrontation with a human. Predators like this need to be removed.

  3. We spent untold $ getting rid of invasive Brazilian Pepper, which never, ever threatened Sanibel residents or pets. We did controlled burns, eradication, clearing, etc. Coyotes are invasive AND threaten citizens. Take the same measures and urgency as spent on the Brazilian Pepper.

  4. I am the woman this article referenced speaking out against nuisance coyotes in my neighborhood and close to our playground. I agree with councilman Maughan and Johnson that we need an effective plan to educate and eradicate any threats towards humans and pets on this island . I believe creating a false sense of security is a threat to our safety if someone feels there is no problem here. Councilwoman Smith does not want culling but stated she did not want a false sense of security established. Ryan Orgera is doing exactly that by his statements that coyotes are not a problem, this shocks me as many folks have called in with multiple sightings , an established attack 4 feet away from the owner of a dog, and coyotes out in the daytime not moving away from humans even without a dog. Coyotes are not native to Sanibel and are also eradicating our protected species that we so admire here on Sanibel. We must listen to all viewpoints but be well informed to protect our citizens and visitors , and our economy cannot suffer one more blow to our reputation as a vacation island .

  5. Coyotes were and are once again a natural part of this area’s landscape.They were originally run off by Red Wolves.Then Red wolves run off by man – so now they have re-established themselves.

    Sanibel Vision Statement – Sanibel Founded on these principals
    To provide a sense of direction for the future, this Vision Statement is a confirmation of the community’s shared values and goals, to guide future decisions.

    Sanibel is and shall remain a barrier island sanctuary, one in which a diverse population lives in harmony with the island’s wildlife and natural habitats. The Sanibel community must be vigilant in the protection and enhancement of its sanctuary characteristics.

    The City of Sanibel will resist pressures to accommodate increased development and redevelopment that is inconsistent with the Sanibel Plan, including this Vision Statement.

    The City of Sanibel will guard against and, where advisable, oppose human activities in other jurisdictions that might harm the island’s sensitive habitats, including the island’s surrounding aquatic ecosystems.

    Sanibel is and shall remain a small town community whose members choose to live in harmony with one another and with nature; creating a human settlement distinguished by its diversity, beauty, uniqueness, character and stewardship.

    Please dont let uneducated fear and the political fear mongering of a few politicians overtake us and Sanibel’s founding principals.

    The island has had experts (FWC, USDA, USFWS) come and talk to us a few times – they all pointed toward what is now seen in the plan. The plan is solid and proven.

    A few folks who let their dogs off a leash pay the consequences of their dogs being in a coyotes territory – your yard is part of their territory even if you consider it yours – they defend their territory and understand that a domestic dog is a canine. If you do not follow the leash law – your dog may get hurt.

    Culling on Sanibel? – people shooting guns or spreading poison or setting traps in our tourist-centric business community? Do you really think it is safe to shoot a gun or set a trap or put out poison anywhere on Sanibel at any time of the season day or night – domestic dogs may die from culling coyotes – people may get injured, wildlife will be poisoned beyond the targeted coyotes – and they will always come back.

    Seems that fear-mongering for political advancement has become the norm. Dont let politicians use your fear of the unknown advance their notoriety.

    This is a sanctuary island – you knew it when you moved here. Be responsible to the educated goal of the Sanibel Plan.

    • Thank you Mark Thompson! So glad you posted this. If you are a resident of Sanibel you have agreed to live harmoniously with nature. I have lived with coyotes for years in my last home in VT and never had a problem. Ever. And I had many many encounters with them. I also had several hundred calving cows, chickens, dogs and barn cats on the property. In a recent newspaper article someone mentioned that dog bites were more of a concern than coyote bites. I believe Sanibel had 47 dog bite incidents in one year and the total of coyote attacks in the United States AND CANADA together was 142. On Sanibel, my large dog has been attacked by loose dogs 6 times in 5 years, and several of those attack dogs were said to be “friendly” by their owners. My dog is fearful now of walking down certain streets. I have encountered coyotes quite a number of times on the island, day and dusk and they have all run away. I often walk at night, especially if the stars and moon are out. Many people I have spoken with are fearful of of a bobcat encounter as well. There are no known reports of a bobcat attack on a human that I am aware of. Some of the rumors we are hearing are just that…..rumors. We hear of a coyote or alligator attack on a dog and the fact that the dog was off leash is left out of the story.
      I agree that there is a LOT of unwarranted fear about these wildlife issues. We humans are taking over all the natural habitats of our island creatures, on this island and everywhere else. Every time we add a new trail for humans here, we are disturbing wildlife habitat. I see trash and other signs of disrespect to our wildlife on all these trails. I am constantly picking up other folks trash. And as for the remark about the coyotes that “our economy cannot suffer one more blow to our reputation as a vacation island”, come on now. The real problem is water quality, traffic and people who move here and want different rules than the ones they signed up for by purchasing a home here. We can’t have it both ways. There is always the option of moving to a new location that suits your lifestyle better. I highly recommend that option if you are living in fear. Life is short. Just be kind to all living things, even when you are sitting frustrated in bumper to bumper traffic. Have an amazing day y’all.

  6. Thank you Mark Thompson! I am very surprised at all the fear mongers on this island. Mr. Maughan is sounding just like a politician. I’m hoping the impact of the unfounded fear of coyotes might result in less visitation to the island. Yeah, thats just how I am. The only actual incident I am personally aware of resulting in damage to a dog on this island was the result of irresponsible neglect on the part of the dogs owner. I have an awesome, very large bobcat and two kits in my backyard, should I cull them too?

  7. Killing isn’t an effective means of resolving issues. Removal of a stabal coyote unit destabalizes the area and can cause an influx in others competing for the terretory. A stable coyote population will restrict it’s population size. The real focus should be on methods of coexisting. The main issues I have seen in the area are pet food left out, cats left outside, and dogs off leash. Instead of pointing fingers at coyotes for doing what they naturally do the fingers need to point towards those failing to take responsibility for their actions. If they won’t act responsibly on their own impliment harsh fines and increase with each offense. People need to learn to coexist with wildlife instead of expecting government agencies to enable their irresponsible lifestyles.

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