Laurie Turton lost a cat to a coyote attack in February.
Now, she and her neighbors are asking the town of Salina for help so that her children and others in the Scottsdale Farms tract will be safe from future attacks.
Neighbors in the subdivision have approached the town board to request that the town relax its regulations pertaining to the use of firearms so that they may hire a wildlife control agent to dispose of coyotes seen in their neighborhood. A public hearing was held on the matter at the board’s regular meeting Monday, April 9.
Turton of Scottsdale Circle originally approached the town in February shortly after her cat was killed by one of the coyotes spotted in the neighborhood.
“My next-door neighbor came over at 10 on a Saturday morning. He had just run out of his house because he had seen a coyote in his backyard grab my cat,” Turton said. “He tried to stop the attack, but the coyote viciously shook [the cat] and ran off with it. He saw the whole attack happen. He has seen the coyotes a few times since then.”
Turton, a mother of young children, said she had contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for guidance. The agency advised her to seek out a professional to dispose of the coyote.
“They said it can attack children,” she said. “It’s not unheard of.”
The residents of the Scottsdale Farms tract would be responsible for any costs incurred from the hiring of a trapper to dispose of the coyotes. The town’s only involvement is in relaxing the firearms regulations so that the trapper is not in violation of that part of the town code. That was the reason for the public hearing – the town needed to approve a temporary exception to the prohibition of the use of firearms in the area of the town in which the coyotes had been spotted.
“I don’t want to be at the next meeting saying a child has been attacked,” Turton said. “There’s no telling what they’re going to do.”
The DEC referred Turton and her neighbors to wildlife control expert Al LaFrance, who also spoke before the town board Monday night.
“Coyotes are here to stay,” LaFrance said. “They’re on the increase here and all across North America. They’re the top predator right now, and they don’t share the food chain. They’re not scared by you banging pots and pans anymore.”
LaFrance had spoken before the board last year when residents of the same area approached the town about the possibility of exterminating a fox that had been spotted near Scottsdale Circle. At that time, the law was not relaxed.
“Last year, I was stunned, because I’ve done this in many, many towns,” LaFrance said. “This is the second time that I’ve been here offering a solution. If you refuse to accept the solution, then I’m wasting my time. The board’s wasting their time. Everybody’s wasting their time.”
LaFrance said he offered a safe, viable solution to a complicated problem.
“We’re not advocating to open up a hunting season in the town of Salina,” he said. “We’re asking that you give a professional permission to handle nuisance wildlife on an as-needed basis. There are 33 children who were grabbed by the head, by the arm, by the buttock, and dragged off their playground, off their swingsets, off their sandboxes and into the edge of the woods. Is it going to happen here? I can guarantee it. It’s just a question of time.”
The public hearing initially called for the use of “a crossbow or other bow and arrow apparatus,” but LaFrance said a shotgun would actually be safer.
“Crossbows are inherently more dangerous than a shotgun using birdshot,” he said. “I spoke with Capt. Ericson of the Syracuse DEC today, and he does not want to see a crossbow used, nor a bow and arrow, to dispatch coyotes.”
LaFrance said crossbows and bows and arrows have shorter range, will pass through the animal and continue on for another 60 to 70 yards and are subject to wind. Shotguns using birdshot, which he recommends using, are safer.
LaFrance said that he has performed similar services in the Plum Hollow subdivision in Clay as well as in the villages of Solvay and East Syracuse.
Not everyone, however, was in favor of allowing the extermination of the coyotes.
“I don’t know where they’re getting their statistics from,” said Karen Antczak, a veterinarian who consults for AAGS. “The people in the know who have no reason to cover up or exaggerate in fact describe dog attacks as quite rampant in New York state. [The last fatal coyote attack in the United States] was a 3-year-old, so it was very serious. It was in California and it was in 1981. A lot of people came forward today and said, ‘Well, I’ve seen a coyote, I’ve seen a coyote,’ and you lived to tell about it. A lot of them are becoming emboldened, and that’s why we do have to become more brazen to scare them away. In our experience, we’ve never seen where they haven’t responded to that.”
Rather than turn to extermination, Antzcak suggested that the town check out resources like Project Coyote (projectcoyote.org), which promotes “educated coexistence” between man and coyote.
“We believe coyotes are a vital component of rural and urban communities, deserving of respect for their adaptability, resilience, and intelligence,” the web site reads. “We aim to create a shift in attitudes toward coyotes and other native carnivores by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding and appreciation.”
“There’s a woman by the name of Camilla Fox [the founder of Project Coyote],” Antzcak said. “She’s corresponded with us and provided us with information. She just says that everyone needs to calm down and understand that, just like other animals, this time of year, you’re going to see them more often. Don’t give them food. Don’t even give them the opportunity. They will move on.”
Project Coyote’s suggestions for peaceful coexistence between the two species include securing food and livestock, using shakers and whistles to scare off the beasts and supervising pets and children in fenced yards. According to Fox, such practices have been very effective in municipalities across the country in allowing coyotes and humans to live together with a minimum of discord. Antzcak said the practices could be employed here with equal success.
“Many municipalities have chosen to educate folks about the issues and the alternatives rather than just blow the problem away,” she said.
The town has been contacted by the DEC, which will consult with the board in examining their existing law and discussing potential modifications. If the board decides to loosen the restrictions on the use of firearms temporarily, the residents of Scottsdale Circle will be able to hire LaFrance or another wildlife control agent. Whoever is hired will then let all area residents know when he is coming so that they can prepare. LaFrance said he does calls for the coyotes to draw them out. He will then shoot the coyote from an elevated stand so that the shot goes into the ground. The animal is then disposed of. If necessary, he will return to dispatch other member of the alpha couple.
But LaFrance emphasized that even this may be a temporary solution.
“It’s not going to keep them away forever. It’s going to work for a year, maybe two, until they once again lose the fear of humans. You’re going to have coyotes here for as long as the town of Salina exists. Not all of them are going to be a problem, and not everyone is a problem now. But when one becomes a problem, you need to take care of it before it escalates from cats and dogs to children,”
The Salina board closed the public hearing and will take up the issue again at its April 23 meeting.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.