CSU researchers study human-coyote conflict in metro Denver

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After an increase in reports of negative encounters with coyotes in metro Denver, scientists from Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources are conducting research to understand how human thoughts and behavior affect coyote conflict in urban areas. The study is being led by researchers from CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and is part of a comprehensive research initiative that is integrating biological and social science information, including data on reported encounters, coyote behavior and habitat monitoring, management response and public perceptions, to help develop more effective strategies for minimizing conflicts between people and coyotes.

The researchers have collected online and mail-back surveys from more than 4,000 metro Denver residents since December 2012. The surveys were designed to assess public attitudes and experiences related to coyotes in selected neighborhoods that have seen varying levels of human-coyote conflict. A separate survey of more than 30 coyote managers was also conducted to provide details on how reports of human-coyote conflict are being handled by various jurisdictions in the area. Findings from both survey efforts are being analyzed and mapped to better understand underlying factors and patterns that may contribute to incidents such as coyote attacks on pets and aggression toward people.

“The goal is to provide a more complete picture of the on-the-ground reality of coyote management in metro Denver. When, where, and how people interact with wildlife such as coyotes in urban environments is driven by both ecological and social factors,” says Andrew Don Carlos, a research associate in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at CSU. “Habitat and prey are important determinants of how coyotes use the landscape. We have a lot of both in metro Denver, so it’s no surprise that they’ve taken up residence in our parks, open spaces, and sometimes even backyards. People’s actions, especially those related to outdoor food attractants and pets, can increase the potential for problems to occur.”

Preliminary results from Adams County, one of the primary sponsors of the project, suggest that a large portion of residents are experiencing regular interactions with coyotes in their neighborhoods. More than 80 percent of survey respondents in the western part of the county and within the cities of Westminster, Thornton, and Northglenn said that they had observed a coyote near their home in the past three years.

However, proximity of people and coyotes doesn’t always lead to conflict. Fewer than 10 percent of respondents said that they had been approached by a coyote, and fewer than 5 percent reported problems between coyotes and pets. No human attacks were reported.

Attitudes toward coyotes were generally mixed in the Adams County survey areas. About half of survey respondents thought having coyotes around was a good thing, while a third expressed negative reactions toward coyotes. The rest were somewhere in the middle. Overall, public interest was very high, with nearly 90 percent of those surveyed in Adams County indicating that they were at least somewhat interested in the issue of coyotes near their home.

“Coyotes are the largest predatory mammal that most urban residents will encounter, and their presence in the neighborhood tends to get a lot of attention. In these types of situations, a solid understanding of public attitudes and behaviors becomes an important piece of the puzzle,” said Tara Teel, an associate professor in CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and one of the study’s principal investigators. “Effective urban coyote management will always involve the public to some degree, and getting a sense for where residents are at on the issue is an important first step for managers.”

The survey findings will also help determine the effectiveness of current public outreach and education campaigns aimed at reducing human-coyote conflict, and will help develop more targeted education initiatives in the future. Results of the coyote manager survey indicated that providing educational information to the public was the most common component of coyote management across metro Denver jurisdictions. Ensuring that residents are getting the right messages about how to remove coyote attractants, protect their pets, and keep coyotes from losing their natural wariness of humans is critical for long-term management success.

The CSU researchers plan to have complete survey results for the entire Denver metro area prepared by the end of summer 2013. The findings will be incorporated with other data from the larger project, including information on coyote incident reports, coyote behavior, coyote habitat, and urban development, to create a model aimed at enhancing scientific knowledge about urban coyote management issues and trends.

In addition to CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, primary partners on the comprehensive coyote conflict research initiative include the City of Aurora’s Urban Coyote Safety and Awareness Program spearheaded by Mary Ann Bonnell, the USDA National Wildlife Research Center represented by Research Wildlife Biologist Stewart Breck, and CSU’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology represented by Professor Kevin Crooks.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, along with several metro Denver city and county offices, have also assisted the project by providing coyote incident reports, funding, and other logistical support. In 2012 the initiative was recognized through an award for excellence in community outreach and public education by the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

“This is truly a collaborative project that approaches human-coyote conflict management in a very comprehensive way,” said City of Aurora Senior Natural Resource Specialist, Mary Ann Bonnell. “By working across jurisdictions and combining scientific research and citizen engagement, we can develop more targeted, informed and effective campaigns that can reduce and/or avoid urban coyote conflict in most cases. That is our goal.”