Coyotes On Our Islands

by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Ph.D.

Ryan Orgera

Over the past months we have increasingly heard about coyotes on our islands. The safety of our residents is a high priority of mine, but so is the integrity of our natural habitats—these are not mutually exclusive. We have coyotes and ostensibly will always have them. While it seems logical that because Sanibel and Captiva are islands that we should be able to control the coyote population easily. This is a much more complex reality than some would suggest.

Culling is a popular rhetorical response to human-coyote interactions. Hundreds of communities around the country have gone down that path, they have almost without exception proven to be tremendous wastes of public funds. Indiscriminate coyote killing does not work. Coyotes are highly adaptive animals, when their populations are threatened they biologically switch to what is referred to as compensatory reproduction. This means that females enter a highly fecund state where they produce much larger litters of pups. So, as communities remove coyotes through culling programs they discover their efforts foiled by coyote population booms.

Additionally, some initial research suggests that coyotes arrive by swimming across Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay, as well as by simply walking across the causeway. Coyotes are among the most successful mammal species in Florida, they thrive in wild and urban settings. No matter how you cut it, coyotes are here to stay. There is no effective eradication program—and should we eradicate those that live on our islands, they will simply be replaced by off-island kin.

So, what is the answer? We must finish Sanibel’s Coyote Management Plan. Our City’s Natural Resources Department is doing just that; working with all their island partners: SCCF, CROW, J.N. “Ding” Darling, and others. Without a proven, scientifically anchored plan, endorsed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we will never successfully understand, or effect change in human-coyote interactions.

Public funds are scarce, especially those for environmental management. When we act on policy from a place of fear rather than developing a meaningful, scientifically sound plan, we are not being the best stewards of our public dollars. There is a simple fact: culling coyotes without a management plan in place is a false trail. If our community chooses to move in that direction, we will be collectively opting to forge ahead with a plan that we know to be ineffective, costing our communities tens of thousands of dollars.

I would urge our residents to support the completion of the City of Sanibel’s Coyote Management Plan, as well as increased funding for population dynamics studies of our coyotes. SCCF, along with our partners, is committed to educating our communities on how to best live with coyotes. A few simple behaviors can reduce the risk of negative human-coyote interactions:

1) Always use a leash when walking dogs, especially smaller animals, and especially at night. If you see a coyote while walking your pet, bring him/her close to you to appear larger.

2) Simply seeing a coyote, day or night, is not necessarily reason for concern. If you feel uncomfortable you should “haze” the coyote. Hazing is simply scaring a coyote by yelling and waving your arms or waving a stick, golf club, cane, etc.. Yes, you will look silly, but you are doing what wildlife managers know is a best practice. Coyotes are inquisitive critters, so scaring them when they are too close to you is best for our community and coyotes alike.

3) Never feed a coyote. They are wild animals. Feeding a coyote is equally bad for the animal as it is for your neighbors.

Cane toads, for instance, are far more dangerous than coyotes to our pets. This highly invasive, successful species kills and injures pets (and sometimes humans) at an alarming rate through its toxins. Why are we so focused on coyotes when we could be investing in fighting much more dangerous species, like cane toads? Also, coyotes play important roles in our ecosystems, including controlling marsh rabbit populations.

No matter what you hear or maybe even believe, we are not experiencing anything unique or even of particular concern according to FWC. Let’s not be hasty, let’s be careful and effective; and respect nature and the safety of our residents. We really can do both.

Founded in 1967, SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed.

Comments (15)

  1. Great article by Ryan! We need a plan to allow us to coexist with coyotes!

  2. Great commentary. Just another reason to respect and enjoy Sanibel; SCCF’s professional and thoughtful stewardship of the island’s natural resources

  3. Thank for the thoughtful piece. We also live in Wyoming and long ago learned that not only Coyotes but also wolves, bears, elk, etc are our neighbors. Moreover, this is a discussion for which there is no final answer. Populations change, adapt, move around, and solutions need to change overtime as well. But, public education remains a constant need. Well done,
    Carroll Wetzel, Captiva

  4. DO NOT cull cyotes! They are part of the culture and environment of our Island! Learn to live with them.

  5. Wonderfully full of common sense, detail and truth. I stand behind you
    Skip Collins

  6. I also disagree with the statement that anything that will be done will cost tens of thousands of dollars as quoted here. It will also cost us tens of thousands of dollars in lowering our property tax base and revenue for the city when people no longer want to buy here, case in point my friend who is an attorney from Michigan has decided not to buy a home in our area after seeing these reports on her local news about coyotes. I am embarrassed to be a Sanibel resident and not know what to say when I meet tourists with their rental bikes on island , on our wonderful path system, asking me why they have seen a coyote in the daytime? Will they stop visiting now ? I have been here for 30 years and these coyotes seem prolific at this time of year after being well fed- eating the marsh rabbits and now those rabbits have dissipated in number and the coyotes are looking for a new food source, possibly our small pets? Maybe in the food chain isn’t there a use for our marsh rabbits as well, so the whole process is disrupted. Coyotes are not a species that are native to Sanibel, that is the issue , and they are becoming a nuisance . We remove nuisance alligators, I think it would be to our best interest to remove nuisance coyotes. I have been trying to haze the coyotes that I see on my dog walks, it does no good to shake my can with pennies in it, I don’t think it should be our responsibility as citizens to train the coyotes to be fearful of humans. Stronger measures have to be put in force to dissipate fear. I no longer have my peace of mind on a dog walk, in the daytime , with a short leash of course, this gentleman continues to belittle us with these obvious statements as if we are not already very aware and educated on these matters. The city is taking our statements and making notes, but we need responsible results and outcomes that keep us safe.

    • Take pepper spray or mace. Remember that we live on a wildlife refuge and you can not eradicate every animal that appears to be a nuisance to you. Who cares if your friend does not want to move here. There are plenty of others that will take their place. We have to coexist with the wildlife. We are are taking up every square inch on this island and planet and destroying everything in the process. There will be nothing left animal or human by the time we are done. We need the alligators to control the coyotes and iguanas. We need the coyotes to control the rabbits, We need the raptors and snakes to control the palm rats. Its a very delicate ecosystem. Anything you change in that system creates a domino effect. People are poisoning the rats which in turn kill the raptors that are feeding on them. Now there is an overabundance of palm rats. I have lived here long enough to see people declaring war on everything that deserves to live here just as much as you do.

      • Maria Dusenbery

        Thank you, I received advice from a city worker to buy pepper GEL, not spray, as it shoots out better and would not fall down in the wind on my dog, also it does no permanent damage to a coyote . I was only commenting how coyotes are not a native species to Sanibel and may have upset the ecological balance here. They also destroy entire turtle nests per Charles LeBuff, and eat many nesting shore birds and upset their nesting patterns in our delicate ecosystem. I live in an area of Sanibel that may be more prone to sightings especially now – since from January to July it is pupping season per USDA and USWF , and when we enter their new found territory , even those of us without a dog are a threat to the coyote. I respect all the wildlife here on Sanibel and honor the folks that keep it safe and beautiful.

  7. This Island of ours is a very special Wild Life Preserve. We all need to find a way to live in harmoney with our wild life. Do everything we can to co-exist before we start to destroy the wildlife.
    Any wild life I have encountered in the past 15 years living here on Sanibel is more afraid of me than I of them. If you encounter alligators, they slither away from you because they really do not want an encounter with a humans. Raccoon as well. Bob cats do not want to both with us either.
    The only coyotes I have seen are when they run in front of my car on Periwinklw Way. Two times in 15 years.
    We all need to try a little harder to exist with all these critters. After all they were here before we wete.

  8. Questions rather than comments..
    I guanas are considered an invasive species on Sanibel and I believe the city pays for a trapper to remove them.
    Aren’t coyotes invasive species to Sanibel?
    Are cane toads an invasive species and are we doing anything about them?
    Thank you for your answers…

  9. Great article Ryan. My wife and I were just talking about how so many people who live on and visit Sanibel are so unaware of the eco system. On the other hand had we not been involved in the SCCF Turtle and Plover programs as well as the Osprey monitoring we would not have been nearly as aware of how to interact and protect the wildlife in the area. As a lifelong conservationist, hunter and fisherman I have always had a great respect for wildlife and the preservation of habitat. Sanibel is blessed to have an organization like SCCF to help educate humans, preserve habitat and protect wildlife. All the best in your efforts to keep up the fight.

    Les Boyle

  10. We live on an island for gods sake! If the coyotes were able to rally about humans invading their home, we’d all be in trouble! Thanks for informing, educating and updating us on the issue!

  11. At potty time, to my dismay my small Italian mutt used to jump my back yard half wall and run with the New Mexico coyotes every night. She always came back about 45 mins later. We had much worse predators toworry about in the form of bobcats, and mountain lions. Coyotes, we soon learned, were somewhat of a comfort (if they were near, the cats were not). Don’t believe the hype. Sure they could be a threat and no doubt these island coyotes not likely to let a strange dog run with their pack (not suggesting that, to be clear). But more often than not they are being curious and acting completely natural. If you’re aggressive towards it and don’t act scared, its less likely to take on the alpha role and growl. Be tall like we did with the mountain lions, yell just like they said. Let loose some leash and swing it around. No fear. No over-reaction. They are not wolves. Because they are wild does not make them automatically mean and aggressive. You pick the role you’re going to play in a coyote encounter. Don’t let it be the one of fear.

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