After two hours of experts talking about urban coyote behavior and neighbors sharing their stories of encounters during a community meeting Wednesday night at the Lussier Community Education Center on Gammon Road, one west side Madison resident had heard enough.
"What's it going to take before someone takes some action?" he asked. "When are we going to bring some sharp shooters in to take care of this?"
The man, who wouldn't give his name, said he's owned a home near Woodland Park for 19 years, but only observed coyotes in the last two. He said he's seen groups of coyotes cutting between houses and his wife said it's made her feel like she's confined to their house.
"We've got a dog and she's afraid to go outside," he said. "She doesn't even want to go for a walk because she thinks there are coyotes outside. It's ridiculous."
West Madison: A "coyote rich environment"
A number of similar encounters with coyotes in the neighborhoods near Owen and Woodland Hills parks, including the death of one family's poodle, led Dane County Supervisor Dianne Hesselbein to organize Wednesday's meeting. She invited representatives from the city/county public health department, local law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Dr. Scott Craven of the UW-Madison Wildlife Ecology department to address residents' concerns.
The message from the experts was that coyotes are not uncommon in places like west Madison. Craven called it a "coyote rich environment" not unlike Cook County, Illinois where Ohio State researchers have conducted an extensive study. Despite the absence of thick forest or even open green space, the food, water, cover and protection coyotes need to thrive are all in abundant supply.
Closer to home, Patrick Comfert of the Madison-Dane County Public Health department said there's not enough information to conclude whether there are more coyotes in west Madison, but the behavior of people living in the area could be leading directly to coyotes making themselves more visible.
"Even bird feeders attract small mammals that attract coyotes," said Patrick Comfert of the Madison-Dane County Public Health department. "The scene under those backyard bird feeders at night is like a National Geographic special."
He advised concerned homeowners to keep compost in containers, install motion-detecting yard lights and even install fences.
Dan Hirchert of the USDA said it's possible that coyotes displaying unusually bold behavior could be ignoring all of those obstacles and would need to be trapped or killed. Incidents of threatening behavior or attacks on pets need to be reported to law enforcement so agencies like his can properly assess the problem and he invited residents at the meeting to note those incidents on a map.
"Coyotes can often be called to a location using a call that mimics the animal they like to eat," he said. "They're then sighted and shot."
Hirchert and others urged residents to speak to their neighors and figure out a strategy for addressing the coyote problem, if it is a problem. But others, such as the anonymous west side resident, think the city should take responsibility.
"We pay taxes," he said. "This isn't our problem, it's the city's problem."
Publicity increases awareness
Shortly after the meeting broke up, Doug Fendry, a wildlife supervisor who has worked for the Wisconsin DNR for 30 years, was helping people mark their run-ins with coyotes on a map of Dane County. He said he doesn't think the coyote population in Dane County is increasing or becoming more bold.
"Back in the '80s, there was a coyote spotted eating out of a dumpster on State Street." he said. "These coyotes have been here for a long time. But what's often the case is that something happens and it gets some publicity and that gets other people out there talking about it."
To report a coyote incident, call the Madison-Dane County Public Health at 608-267-1989
Cook County Coyote study: urbancoyoteresearch.com
California "Coyote Bytes" website: coyotebytes.org