DEM issues warning, safety tips with coyote sightings in Rhode Island on the rise

An Eastern coyote. Photo courtesy Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management

WESTERLY — For the past 10 months, the Westerly Police Department has not received any complaints of coyotes attacking either humans or domestic pets in the community. Town and state wildlife experts now are taking a proactive approach to try and extend that streak.

Westerly Animal Control Officer Art Smith and Charles Brown, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Management, will host an informational session on Thursday, Aug. 15. The event will focus specifically on coyotes in Rhode Island and offer tips to avoid attacks and a review of procedures in place in Westerly to help curb coyote interactions.

"This is part of an ongoing effort to address concerns and reduce the dangers in the community," Smith said on Wednesday. "The good news in all this, we have not had a single incident of coyotes attacking humans or pets now since last October."

Smith cautioned, though, that the lack of reports doesn't necessarily mean that no attacks have occurred. He said the department has a record only of what is reported and notes that while there is more than enough evidence to suggest that the number of incidents is down considerably, there may have been a few instances in which the police or animal control officials were not notified.

Concerns about coyotes have been in the spotlight over the past several years. A peak in reported attacks in 2017 led the Town Council to pass a local ordinance to ban the feeding of coyotes, and to approve the installation of signs in areas where sightings have been more common.

The town has also taken other steps to address the issue, Smith noted, including communicating directly with business owners on such things as limiting unintentional food sources like unsecured dumpsters.

"We reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, and they were incredibly helpful in creating a line of communication with the business community," Smith said. "They were able to use their email database to help us deliver a letter to each of the chamber businesses in order to remind them of the do's and don'ts."

In addition, town officials said letters were also sent to all real estate agents in the community asking them to remind summer residents and new property owners of the concerns related to coyotes. A few agents worried that such warnings could potentially hurt rentals or sales, but the vast majority were on board with the idea, Smith said.

These efforts have helped to address the problem, but have not completely quelled fears in the community. On June 3, following a presentation on coyotes that Smith gave to the council, numerous residents shared stories of attacks and expressed fear that it would be only a matter of time before the next attack occurs.

Amy Stowe, a Misquamicut resident, described an incident involving a coyote that jumped over a fence and into her backyard while she and her dog were outside on a summer evening. The coyote grabbed her dog by the neck but eventually let go when Stowe yelled at the animal. Her dog required immediate care from a veterinarian, Stowe said.

Rob Saglio, a resident who started the Westerly Coyote Report Facebook page, thanked Smith and Chief of Police Shawn Lacey for meeting with him and praised the June education program, but said he doubted that problems with habituated coyotes would diminish unless there was a planned effort to kill them.

Smith said Wednesday that these concerns, among others, are why regular programs such as the one on Aug. 15 are so important.

"A big part of what we need to do to continue to prevent these incidents is to host these forums and provide an outlet for people to stay informed," Smith said.

The program will be held at 4 p.m. in the Emergency Operations Center at the Westerly Police Department and will include a question and answer session. There is no cost and any area residents are encouraged to attend.

For more information on coyotes, visit the DEM eastern coyote information page at http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/coyote.pdf.

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