Wellington North to focus on public education to help deal with coyote concerns

WELLINGTON NORTH – Council here will focus on public education for now to help residents deal with concerns about coyotes near livestock and populated areas.

Council also agreed on March 22 to monitor upcoming discussions on the issue by the Wellington Federation of Agriculture (WFA) before taking further action.

On March 8 council directed staff to prepare a report on nuisance coyotes and methods of dealing with them after councillor Steve McCabe said he was contacted by constituents with concerns about coyotes “coming right up close to their outbuildings and a frozen pond that was being used as a skating rink.”

A report from clerk Karren Wallace at the March 22 meeting advised council the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) states that, in many cases, conflicts can be prevented.

The ministry provides tips on its website (https://www.ontario.ca/page/prevent-conflicts-wildlife).

“However, when prevention fails, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act provides that municipalities may pay licensed hunters or trappers to hunt or trap fur-bearing mammals within their municipal boundaries and on private property with the permission of the landowner,” states the report from Wallace.

“The municipality determines, through a bylaw, the terms of any such arrangement, including the species … the hunters or trappers involved, the number of animals, and the locations and time periods that apply.”

The MNR recommends that when public safety is impacted the police should be notified. Police can dispatch an animal if they deem it necessary to protect public safety, the report states.

The report also indicates there have been 29 claims for livestock killed by predators in Wellington North over the past five years, 16 of which were made by one individual.

However, Wallace pointed out only two claims were reported in 2020 and two in 2019.

Implementing a bounty on coyotes is another solution considered in the report.

“There are varying opinions on the effectiveness of a bounty; however the opinions vary depending on the organization,” the report states.

“The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters supports a bounty, while Coyote Watch Canada is very much for conservation. So it is difficult to get a balanced view to present an unbiased report.”

Trapping nuisance coyotes is another option. However, MNRF rules state captured wildlife must be released within 24 hours, as close as possible to within a kilometre from the capture site and in a similar habitat wherever possible.

“This would make it difficult to provide compensation for trappers,” the report notes.

An education initiative directed at residents of Wellington North, through radio/newsprint ads and social media outlining MNRF suggestions, was also presented as an option.

The report notes property owners can make their own arrangements to manage coyotes on their property, provided they meet MNRF hunting and firearm regulations.

West Grey resident Axy Leighl addressed council on the topic as a delegation at the March 22 meeting.

Leighl, who said he has a master’s degree in zoology and “a lifelong passion” for nature and wildlife, asked to address council after learning of plans for a possible “coyote cull.”

“What I understand is the coyotes haven’t been doing anything wrong, other than just being seen,” said Leighl.

“They’ve been seen close to buildings, cars and driveways and, the most concerning incident, if you will, is watching some kids skating on a pond.

“But it doesn’t really sound to me like the coyotes are doing anything more than what coyotes do.”

Leighl told council a cull “seemed like knee-jerk reaction to me,” adding, “it doesn’t sound like it will do what you want it to do.”

He explained, “When you cull a population, what happens immediately after that is you’ll get more coyotes.

“They respond by having a larger litter. They respond to the selective pressure, they have larger litters and within a year you’re going to be back to the same population level.”

Leighl continued, “They’re here for a reason. We’ve created, when we cleared out the forests and created the farmland, we created edge habitat which brought in their prey species, which brought in the coyotes.

“The coyotes emigrated from the west. Along the way they mated with grey wolves, red wolves and dogs, which gave us what we have today, our eastern coyote, which is also called, it’s a sensational name, the coy wolf. And that becomes a problem. People hear the word coy wolf and panic sets in.”

Leighl said most coyotes weigh only about 35 to 40 pounds.

“They look much larger, but they’re not,” he stated.

Leighl, who grew  up in Mississauga said both that city and neighbouring Toronto have a growing coyote population.

“The people there, they live with the coyotes. Both cities have a page on their website that talks about how to live with the coyotes,” he stated.

Leighl said studies done in Chicago, which also has a coyote problem, note the animals generally stick to their natural prey for food.

“These coyotes eat largely rodents and rabbits and the occasional deer when they can get it. Anthropogenic food, which is food that they get from people, is only found in those coyotes that live in areas where there are no nature preserves,” Leighl pointed out.

“So my point there is simply that the coyotes, they perform a function. They’re eating the rodents which I think we can all agree we could do with fewer of.”

Leighl pointed out hiring trappers would cost the municipality money and a cull would create a public relations problem.

“Do coyotes I mean in this area, do they generally attack or kill small livestock or pets or that type of thing or … do they leave them alone?” asked councillor Dan Yake.

Leighl replied, “In urban areas … if they come across a pet that’s available, they will eat it. They will eat cats that are wandering. They will eat small dogs.

“They don’t’ necessarily hunt them. It’s an opportunistic thing.”

He added, “They are not unlike our dogs. They’ll look and they assess what they looking at. A dog the size of a coyote is not likely to be prey. Your little teacup dogs … if they come across it, it will be unfortunate. And I sympathize with any pet owner that loses a pet. It does happen,” said Leighl.

“But do they eat pets as a rule? No.” he added.

While acknowledging Leighl is very knowledgeable on the topic, McCabe took issue with some of his findings.

“I know, that my dog has been hunted by, well scouted by, coyotes,” he stated.

“I know our residents don’t like them when they have their outdoor rink and they’re quite visible and close while their children are out, or grandchildren in the one instance, outside skating.

“Yes were supposed to live in some sort of a balance with them … how do you find a balance with coyotes?”

McCabe added, “I’m not a hunter. I have a gun just in case the coyotes come up close. I’ve had to pull it out a couple of different times and they’re scared off when the lights come on.

“I’ve had them come right up on the back deck of my house, so I have a bit of a problem with some of the information that we’ve gotten tonight.”

However,  McCabe said he is “open to the most humane way of doing this with the best results for our residents.”

“I guess the resident sheep farmer should weigh in,” said councillor Lisa Hern.

“I detest the word bounty and I detest the word cull. I don’t like either of those words. However, that being said, there are lots of coyotes out there and they do like to hunt.”

She added, “I do get calls in the middle of the night from neighbours saying that the coyotes are at your fence. We have had to get up in the middle of the night and chase them off or whatever you can do.

“But I don’t know what my alternative is. I could keep the sheep inside and then you’re using a ton more fossil fuels and you’ve got to bring all your feed in. Right now they’re outside on grass sequestering carbon and doing all kinds of good things for the environment.”

Hern said she would prefer to see a system implemented similar to Dufferin County, where the municipality contributes “a small amount” to assist residents with specific, documented problems.

However, she noted, “Once your livestock becomes a food source. You have to address the problem.”

Hern pointed out the WFA has coyote predation on the agenda for its next meeting “so they might want to comment on it in a month’s time.”

“I’m happy to have more discussion about this,” said McCabe. “I think that’s the best way to approach things.”

He noted he would be interested in learning more about how Dufferin or other area municipalities handle the issue, but “I’m not necessarily sure that Chicago and Toronto line up very well with Wellington North with regard to their own plans.”

Mayor Andy Lennox indicated he would rather avoid a cull or bounty program.

“While I recognize that coyotes can be an issue in specific situations, wether it be with livestock or being a nuisance – and it is a little unnerving, Steve, I’m sure, to have one on your back deck – I think people are dealing with livestock conflicts all the time.

“I know I deal with livestock conflicts routinely … whether it’s coyotes, racoons skunks, deer, all of those things. I think MNR does provide some resources to help individuals deal with individual situations.”

The mayor said he favoured informing residents “there are tools and resources available to them.”

“I really struggle with the idea that if we have one or two problem coyotes we’re going to go out and dispatch a whole bunch of them,” said Lennox.

“I don’t think that really serves us or wildlife very well and it does tend to throw the eco system out of balance. So we end up with more rodents or more deer or more turkey and, as a farmer, I have had all kinds of problems with wildlife doing crop damage.”

Lennox added, “I really don’t think that it’s our position as a municipality to get involved in that … If we start interfering with wildlife, where do we start and where do we stop?”

“I agree with that. I was hoping that maybe we could find some kind of balanced approach,” said councillor Sherry Burke, who suggested posting information on dealing with coyotes on the township website.

“Sometimes people just don’t know where to go for the information that they are looking for.”

CAO Mike Givens suggested that in addition to providing information on dealing with coyotes to the public, “maybe we could wait and see what comes from the [WFA] and use that as part of the next conversation.”

McCabe agreed, adding, “As long as we get the best decision and the most information to come out of it, that’s what I’m here for.”

Council received the staff report as information.