by Todd A. Wildermuth
Not for the first time ever -- not even for the first time this year -- a coyote came loping within 50 feet of me in Seattle. Today it was along a major arterial road where I was waiting for my morning bus. This was pretty clearly comfortable territory for the coyote. It moved casually and showed no obvious signs of either fear or threat. In short, it seemed at home.
Coyotes are at home in nearly all of the state of Washington. A state map of "core habitat" for coyotes covers almost the every inch of every county. By comparison, other common urban wildlife such as raccoons and opossums seem remarkably range-limited. Few animals seem to have the habitat dexterity and range of Canis latrans.
The trend in urbanized Washington points upward, from at least Seattle to Tacoma, and numbers are increasing or sustained in agricultural parts of the state such as the Yakima Valley. This coincides with an apparent rise in population and range expansion throughout significant parts of the North America and Central America over the past century.
With coyotes so abundant and resilient, many states permit a year-round open-season. Consider Washington State. Unique among all "small game and other wildlife," coyotes in Washington can presently be hunted without any restriction on season, without bag limit, and throughout the entire state. The use of dogs, leg traps, or "coyote getters" is generally prohibited while taking coyotes, but any other legal method of hunting animals at any time is allowed for coyotes.
Despite this liberal allowance from the state, other limitations keep urban coyotes more protected than they would be in more rural areas. State or local codes prohibiting discharging firearms within a city limit, for example, mean that though the state has granted its permission to take a coyote from the common shared wildlife stock, would-be hunters cannot exercise the usual means of lawful take due to laws meant to protect public safety.
The steady rise of the urban coyote in particular will remain a controversial area of public policy and law for years to come. Should we allow for urban coyote hunts or other forms of lethal take? Limited urban hunts are allowed in some jurisdictions already. But do they do more harm than good? Are the risks too great and rewards too small? These are both scientific questions and moral ones, and jurisdictions across the country will have to wrangle with them.
Lines are being drawn already that tend to follow pre-existing political commitments. The NRA's hunting arm warns of dire coyote dangers to unarmed urban dwellers. The Humane Society has already begun working with local governments on a model coexistence plan. Early indications are that nonlethal control is likely to be favored in urban and suburban areas but not uniformly so. As coyotes continue their rise, cities will have to grapple with coyote management just as rural dwellers long have.