A pack of residents piled into Salina Town Hall to hear more on the possibility of lifting the town’s restriction on the use of firearms in the Scottsdale Farms tract after a coyote was spotted in the area a few months ago.
The town held another public hearing Monday, May 14, to consider allowing residents in the neighborhood to hire a wildlife control agent to shoot the animal. The issue first appeared on the town board’s agenda April 9, when the board considered the possibility of allowing a trapper to use a crossbow or longbow. After that hearing, it was determined that method was unsatisfactory; Monday night’s hearing was to consider the possibility of using a firearm.
At Monday’s meeting, town attorney Robert Ventre shared more information he had obtained from the Department of Environmental Conservation. He noted that all homeowners within a 500-foot radius of whomever would be discharging any firearm, crossbow or longbow would have to sign a waiver indicating that they’d been informed of the intent to discharge any weapon, and that they gave their permission for that weapon to be discharged.
“Keep in mind that a requirement of any consent to be given by this board, if you are going to consent to this, you’d want compliance with obtaining a sign-off from the DEC,” he said. Otherwise, Ventre said, the wildlife control agent would be committing a misdemeanor, as would those who hired him in the first place.
“We don’t want to condone that,” Ventre said.
Because of the proximity of Donlin Drive Elementary, the school board’s permission might also have to be obtained.
Ventre said the town board shouldn’t move forward until signatures were obtained from all homeowners within that 500 foot radius of where the shooting would take place.
“It would be senseless for you to grant an exception without obtaining that,” Ventre said.
Numerous residents of the town voiced their opposition to the proposal.
“The thing I really worry about is the precedent,” said Linda Young of Second Street. “If you allow the killing of coyotes this year, then next year, what’s it going to be? Are we going to go back to the foxes again? If some other wild animal is spotted, are we going to automatically go out and shoot it? I just think it’s a very dangerous precedent to set.”
Peter Knowles, who lives on nearby Donlin Drive, expressed his concerns as well as those of some of his neighbors about the proposal.
“We oppose the lifting of the ban for a number of reasons,” Knowles said. “The neighborhood isn’t really following any of the basic guidelines… There are a number of devices that can be purchased with the sole purpose of warding off predators – whistles, air horns and whatnot.”
Knowles said none of the basic techniques have been tried and implored the town to test out those before resorting to lethal methods, especially in such close proximity to homes and schools.
“Any firearm, no matter how expert the user, can be the cause of accidental injury,” he said.
His comments were echoed by DeeDee Dillingham of Boden Lane.
“I would be much more worried about a shotgun in my backyard than I would about a coyote,” she said.
In addition, Dillingham referenced a release sent to the town on May 10 by the Humane Society of the United States. The town has not responded, according to Dillingham.
“The HSUS has offered to assist in the design and implementation of a humane program for solving coyote conflicts, but the town board has not responded,” the release stated. “The most effective techniques for resolving coyote conflicts are educating the public on ways to avoid conflicts with coyotes, such as keeping cats indoors, not letting dogs outside unattended, managing trash and other food items that attract coyotes, and ‘hazing’ coyotes who have lost their fear of humans. Hazing involves the systematic use of deterrents such as noisemakers, projectiles and water hoses.”
According to the release, these techniques are both more effective and longer-lasting than shooting coyotes.
But the residents of Scottsdale Circle were adamant that killing the animals was the only way to ensure the safety of the area. Two residents in favor of the proposal, Dr. James Dispenza and his daughter, Mary Snyder, were in attendance at the public hearing.
Dispenza said the whole saga started because a neighbor witnessed an attack on a pet cat.
“The neighbor of mine who witnessed the attack said it was enough that, if someone else had witnessed it, even an animal lover, it might change their viewpoint,” he said.
Snyder said she was appalled at the kinds of questions people were asking.
“When they suggested that a shooter come, I thought, it’s a safety concern,” she said. “I expected people would ask about the safety of it – the shooting and the angle and the distance. But those weren’t the questions people asked. People asked questions like, ‘Do they have puppies?’ ‘Are you going to advocate shooting dogs?’ ‘Do you hate animals?’”
Snyder also pointed out that, according to the research she’s done, the coyotes’ behavior can be categorized as “aggressive.”
“A professor at Cornell University who’s been studying coyotes for years made a statement, and this is on Cornell’s website,” she said. “‘This kind of aggressive behavior’ — and what he means is the appearance of coyotes in daylight in heavily populated areas — [precedes] ‘attacks on children, because they’re perceived by coyotes as a potential food source.’”
The town board members, meanwhile, were split on how to proceed.
“I do feel that safety is the number one issue in my mind,” said Second Ward Councilor V. James Magnarelli. “Our number one priority is to keep the taxpayers safe — safe from predators, safe from firearms. It’s a dangerous situation either way. We do not want to compromise the safety of anyone either way.”
Third Ward Councilor Jerry Ciciarelli, meanwhile, seemed to have made up his mind.
“I believe we have some short- and long-term decisions to make,” Ciciarelli said. “I don’t think we’ll ever come up with a perfect solution. According to the DEC, a coyote that does not fear people can be very dangerous. So if I had to say, we could let the coyotes run loose and probably take care of the cat problem that we have going on here and that would be the end of that, but that’s not the case here. This coyote posed a threat at 10 in the morning. I consider that a problem. I’m pretty much in favor of taking care of the problem short-term and implementing long-term strategies to educate people to prevent in the future.”
A vote is expected to take place at the May 28 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.