Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Coyotes keep suburbs on edge


'Have gun, will travel' could become sharpshooter's motto

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MADEIRA - When Blue Ash residents complained that coyotes were slaughtering their pets, Police Chief Chris Wallace took care of it - with a custom-made .221 Fireball rifle.

The kill tally: seven coyotes. Two of them stand stuffed as trophies at his home. A third is at the taxidermist.

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City of Blue Ash Police Chief Chris Wallace with the highly precise custom-made .221 Fireball rifle.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
Now, Madeira officials are thinking about enlisting Wallace's sharpshooting skills to take out a pack of the wild canines around the Camargo Canyon subdivision near Kenwood Country Club.

Madeira is the latest Greater Cincinnati community to grapple with concerns over the growing suburban population of coyotes, which has increased statewide in the last decade.

Known as opportunistic predators who eat just about anything, they easily adapted to urban and suburban environments because their favorite foods - rodents and other small animals - are plentiful, wildlife experts say. In Ohio, and across the nation, they are considered a threat to livestock and can legally be killed, even though organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have spoken out against extermination.

In Camargo Canyon, the high-pitched howls start as early as 11 p.m. and carry through until after dawn. A lone reddish coyote, as large as Kathy Murphy's female golden retriever, sometimes wails directly under her bedroom window, and she's seen paw prints and large urine markings in fresh snow. Some neighbors fear their cats, small dogs and young children will fall prey to the predators.

"You've got people that love animals, and I do, too, but this has got to stop somewhere," said Debbie Waller, a 12-year resident and mother of four who's not completely sold on the need for a sharpshooter.

Waller asked Madeira officials to do something about the coyotes. She says that her 10-year-old son becomes unnerved every time their cat slips out the door.

"What am I supposed to do - say, 'Have my cats for lunch?' " she asked.

The issue will be up for discussion at the Monday council meeting. City Manager Tom Moeller said he has asked Wallace - the sniper team leader with Hamilton County SWAT - if he would consider helping.

"He's interested," said Moeller. Council will have to decide whether to bend its citywide hunting ban for the sake of coyote control and whether using a gun is appropriate, he said. He said coyotes appeared in Madeira about two or three years ago in the same area.

At least one council member isn't in favor of killing the animals. Even neighbors in Camargo Canyon are split on what's best.

Murphy, who moved here from Colorado Springs - where there were bear in her front yard, mountain lions in her kids' schoolyard and a push to co-exist with wild animals - thinks the coyotes should be left alone for now.

"If I had a cat, I'd probably feel different. But, if it is just this one, I'm not feeling threatened. But, I would be afraid if they started forming packs," she said.

Councilwoman Sarah Evans, a former Hamilton County parks naturalist, said she has seen coyote droppings along paths between her Kenwood Hills neighborhood and Camargo Canyon. She figures they are harmless because they tend to shy away from humans.

"They are not doing anything but maybe making people a little uneasy," Evans said. "You are not going to be able to control them by hunting them every once in a while. It might make people feel good, but it's not going to do much good."

Increasing coyote populations have spurred several other Greater Cincinnati communities to action to soothe residents' fears. Fairfield passed a law this month to trap and kill them, while Springdale and Blue Ash have turned to sharpshooting.

Police in Warren County's Hamilton Township are considering trapping a lone coyote roaming a subdivision, but are awaiting an OK from the homeowners' association. Chief Gene Duvelius said howling is commonplace in the township, but few residents have reported sightings. Still, he's issued orders to his officers to fire if they get a clear shot that's safe.

Complaints about coyotes in sprawling, woodsy Indian Hill have "come and gone" for six or seven years, said City Manager Mike Burns. Only two of the animals were observed during the city's recent deer count, and there haven't been any reports of missing pets or mauled livestock.

"The mindset is that if it ain't a problem, don't fix it. We're not seeing large numbers, but we know they are out there," Burns said.

Wallace said the answer isn't to wipe out the coyote population, but to keep it in check. He said it's useless to trap the animals; they'll end up being killed anyway because state law prohibits them from being released elsewhere.

"We have to be able to manage the problem. I don't see us ever getting rid of them, and I don't know that that's the point," he said.

The long-time hunter, expert marksman and rifle instructor said he was enlisted to take care of Blue Ash's coyote problem after dogs were mauled, cats disappeared and residents complained that the coyotes were getting too close for comfort. Wallace blamed the latter on neighbors setting out bologna to feed the animals.

Wallace bought a custom-made gun and special scope, worth about $2,300, with his own money, along with special ammunition that, for safety's sake, would pierce the coyote but not travel through the animal. He honed his coyote-hunting skills by watching videos and reading books.

Dressed in camouflage clothing on occasion, he hunts on foot, using distressed animal calls to lure the coyotes in, keeping in mind not to look them in the eye or they'll turn and run, and above all, to keep things safe. All are key to a successful hunt, he said.

"Seeing them and killing them are two different things. You have to really be so careful in an urban area," Wallace said.

Because of his efforts, Wallace thinks Blue Ash's coyote population has dwindled to two or three. But with mating season in full swing, there will be more, he said.

"Our problem is being managed now. I'm sure it will come back," he said. "A surgical removal of the ones that are causing problems is probably the best solution."

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E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com

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