by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Last month, the Coyote Management and Education plan prepared by the Natural Resources Department sparked debate over wildlife management and public safety. The discussion continued Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Sanibel City Council meeting with a progress report on the plan from Natural Resources Director James Evans and Deputy Director Holly Milbrandt.
While the overall plan is designed to “assist in effectively and humanely preventing and solving conflicts between coyotes, people and pets,” a lot of questions remain on how to appropriately move forward with managing the relatively new coyote population on the island.
“It’s important to know how many are on the island and, more importantly, how many are moving on and off the island,” said Evans. “This could change how we manage coyotes.”
He also stressed another important question to answer, simply because of the island’s extensive wildlife habitat, is the possibility for Sanibel to sustain a larger coyote population than other communities and what their impact is to protected or unprotected wildlife. “We don’t know the depredation rate on sea turtles or least turn colonies,” he said. “What extent is their impact?”
Milbrandt presented the eight initiatives being pursued by staff, which are part of four broader categories that include population status, how other communities manage coyotes, an evaluation of costs and options of management strategies and public education.
The single action taken on this matter by council Tuesday was the approval to add a direct link to coyote information to the alerts section of the homepage on the city’s website.
Following the update by Milbrandt, public comments ranged from fear of coyote attacks and a need for a sense of urgency to appreciation for what the city is doing about the situation and taking a scientific approach.
“I appreciate what the city is doing and appreciate the plan; I think it makes sense,” said Dr. Steve Brown, an island resident and former Sanibel mayor. “I have an encounter (with a coyote) about every other day and my main concern is public safety.”
Evans expressed his biggest concern over coyotes is rabies. “We do need to understand what the populations are; what the carrying capacity is; whether they are moving on or off the island; and if there is a threat for them to contract rabies and have a real impact on public safety,” he said.
“That is why I think it’s important to separate the issues between wildlife and public safety, but we’ll deal with them together,” concluded Evans.
Amid the public concern over increasing coyote encounters, Evans suggested residents contact a nuisance trapper to have a dangerous coyote removed from a neighborhood. “You don’t have to wait for the city (to take action), any homeowner can pick up the phone and make that call,” he said.
Mayor Kevin Ruane suggested calling the Sanibel Police Department to report dangerous encounters. “We give the police full authority to do what is necessary to keep this island safe,” he said.
Milbrandt and Evans will return to council in March with another progress report, which is expected to include evaluation of collected information and identification of available technologies or other resources for immediate implementations to improve understanding of coyote activity on Sanibel. They will also present an analysis of data collected from four wildlife cameras on Island Inn Road, where high coyote activity has been reported.