In the wake of a number of attacks on small pets in Wauwatosa, a new partnership looks to keep tabs on coyotes and identify those that could be problematic.
To date, four adult male coyotes have been trapped and tagged in Wauwatosa, which has been identified as a 'hot spot' for coyote activity, said Julia Robson, assistant natural areas coordinator for Milwaukee County Parks.
Through the program, coyotes are caught using cable restraints — which do not harm the animals — on county parkland in Wauwatosa and West Allis. Ear tags are placed on the trapped animals, which are then released for monitoring. GPS tracking devices are not used in this program.
The tag-and-track initiative, scheduled to run through late March, is a partnership between Milwaukee County Parks, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology's Urban Canid Project.
Wauwatosa has been anything but immune to coyote sightings and attacks in recent months; two small dogs were killed by coyotes in September and a third was found dead of a suspected coyote attack, leaving neighbors to resort to walking in groups and carrying large sticks to fend off the animals.
In December, city of Wauwatosa leaders began discussions on creating a local coyote management program. A city committee discussed a coyote management plan Tuesday at city hall.
How the program works
Through the website inaturalist.org, area residents can report when and where they spot a coyote. Those who use the program answer a number of questions about the sighting, including what time the animal was seen, how close the animal was and whether or not it had ear tags.
The questionnaire also asks the user to rate the coyote's aggression level on a 1 to 5 scale and whether an attempt was made to haze the animals. Some users have uploaded photos of the coyotes.
When the online program was launched first booted up, it drew 26 coyote observations throughout the greater Milwaukee area, Robson said. In January 42 observations were reported and more than 70 have been reported so far in February.
Staff working to trap and tag coyotes are only working on county-owned properties, Robson said. In Wauwatosa, the animals have been trapped along Underwood Creek Parkway, although exact locations are not being released to prevent trap tampering.
While Robson said she is pleased that four coyotes were trapped and tagged over a five-day span, she does hope to see more.
The coyotes are caught using cable restraints, which are nonlethal traps that create a choke collar around an animals' neck when they walk across it. The traps are checked on a daily basis, and when a coyote is found in a trap, they are further restrained with a pole noose, and a muzzle is applied to the animal. A towel with slits in it is pulled over the coyote's head and its ears are pulled through.
In conjunction with staff from the DNR, the age, sex and any other unique characteristics about the animal are recorded.
Robson said county staff is interested in learning how the trapped coyotes would behave when approached by humans, but learned that the animals appeared to be in a 'catatonic' state.
'People expect a wily coyote, but the second you walk up to them, they tip over and completely submit,' Robson said.
Robson said those knowledgeable about coyotes emphasize the importance of hazing programs and educational outreach. She added lethal programs are not effective in the long term, as killing off coyotes causes their populations to surge.
'It's one of their adaptations that makes them so successful,' she said. 'When there is harvest pressure on a coyote population it has been shown that coyotes will produce larger litters and more female litters and reach sexual maturity at an earlier age.'
Robson said that if a tagged animal continues to act aggressively even after excessive hazing efforts, permitting the removal of that particular animal through trapping could be considered. She noted Milwaukee County Parks does not trap coyotes for removal; instead, an outside trapper could be brought in, she said.
'What we want folks to know is if they see a coyote, it's not necessarily a bad thing,' said Marcus Mueller, a graduate student at UW-Madison working on the project, during a Feb. 22 public information meeting on coexisting with the animals.
Wildlife experts offered tips on hazing the animals, including carrying an air horn while on walks, making loud and aggressive gestures toward coyotes and not running away when one is encountered.
David Drake, a professor of forest and wildlife ecology at UW-Madison, said Wauwatosa residents should stop indirectly feeding the animals through compost piles and even grill drippings.
'Do an audit of your yard,' he said. Building a fence around a property line can also help keep pets safe, he said.
Wauwatosa resident Peggy McGuire said she plans to heed the experts' advice and pass it along to her neighbors.
'People seem to be frightened of this,' she said of the coyotes. 'I think (the presenters) had concrete ideas and concrete facts.'
The Parks Department, the DNR and the Urban Canid Project researchers are working together to prepare a coyote management plan for Milwaukee County.
HOW TO HELP
Residents throughout Milwaukee County are encouraged to submit reports of coyote sightings. As tagging occurs in the targeted area, citizens can include information on the coyotes with uniquely colored ear tags, helping to tie observations and behaviors to specific animals.
Residents are asked to submit all reports at bit.ly/1Se5Pai, or use the related mobile app.