Have you seen this animal?
The may look creepy, but city coyotes are beneficial
Jenny Sweeney’s only concern about her dog, Sami, involved the 6-year-old boxer’s upset stomach. So early one morning last spring, she tied her pet up in the front yard of her tidy Beaumont Village home. “She gets up and eats grass,” Sweeney says. “It’s all she wants to do.” But as Sweeney turned to head back indoors, something strange caught her eye. “I saw these two things across the street walking toward her,” Sweeney says. “I thought, ‘What are they?’ They’re kind of creepy looking, very wraithlike, kind of thin. I was scared. “I screamed and they went away.” Many Portlanders have stories like Sweeney’s, one that is both startling yet ultimately not surprising. She’d seen her first urban coyote. The occasion is often unsettling because people don’t expect to see a coyote — an animal mythologized by some cultures for its independence and quiet cunning — in the city. It’s predictable because they are all around us. “Coyotes are prolific and they are everywhere,” says Rick Swart, of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They don’t live just in the wilderness. “We probably get a report every week, four or five a month. It’s pretty routine.” Sweeney is not alone among her Northeast Portland neighbors. Larisa Eichacker, who lives across 39th Avenue, received a flyer last summer from another resident warning of coyotes in the vicinity. “That was the first I’d ever heard of anyone seeing one,” Eichacker says. “She sent around a note saying to keep your pets inside because she had seen one and one of them had possibly gotten one of their cats.” The next day, Eichacker was eating breakfast with her husband and two sons when the family looked up to see a coyote trotting down the middle of their street. “Just casually strolling,” she says. “It was maybe 9 or 10 in the morning. It was shocking. I guess if you lived farther out in the suburbs you’d see it more often. I’d never seen one before.” Brandon Harnden, whose aunt lives on nearby Alameda Drive, was doing yardwork for a neighbor when a coyote appeared in broad daylight. “It sees me and stops,” Harnden says. “It’s like, ‘What are you going to do? I’m here. I’m a coyote.’ Most of the time they’re really scared of you. I was probably 10 feet from him. If I didn’t have the weed whacker, I might have been scared.” As it was, Harnden fired up the landscaping tool and the animal fled down the street. Natural hazard on the course It was not Harnden’s most harrowing encounter with coyotes. That happened several years ago when the avid golfer was finishing a round one evening at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains. “I walked around the corner — dogleg left — and there were about seven coyotes standing in the fairway,” he recalls. “I took off running.” Harnden says he returned to the clubhouse rather than retrieve his ball. “I was just out there to practice anyway,” he says. If Harnden had known more about the species officially labeled Canis Latrans, he could have finished his round. The name coyote derives from the Nahuatl word coyotl, although the animal ranges from Panama as far north as Alaska. A New World native, unlike its wolf cousins, the coyote figures prominently in various indigenous cosmologies, most often as a devious trickster, but in some cases as the omnificent creator itself. It would later become a howling, moonlit icon of the Old West. It is a versatile survivor, a stealthy carnivore that is able to subsist on small animals, insects and human refuse alike. Bob Sallinger of the Audubon Society of Portland says people have no choice but to live alongside coyotes; the animal has proved as adaptable as it is indestructible, residing in the heart of places as urbanized as Chicago and New York. “They’ve established themselves in cities across North America,” Sallinger says. “They’ve actually expanded their range over the last century. “This is the most intensely persecuted animal across the continent and eradication is not an effective solution. We have to get used to them. They are here and it’s normal.” Sallinger was called in as a consultant after a small plane collided with a coyote at Portland International Airport in the mid-1990s. He says airport officials spent $25,000 on a mitigation program that ended up killing several local dogs while failing to abate the coyote problem. Only after miles of fences were installed were the animals kept from the runways. Sallinger has seen other efforts to control coyote populations backfire in similar fashion. Poison, leg hold traps and neck snares often hit unintended targets and, even when effective, trigger a compensatory breeding rate among coyotes that allows them to rebound quickly. “They fill back in immediately,” he says. They make good neighbors What most people don’t understand, Sallinger says, is that coyotes are a benefit to the urban ecosystem. Most active in early summer when new pups need feeding, the animals hold down the population of rodents as well as geese that didn’t always reside in the area year-round. Moreover, coyotes present almost no threat to adult humans. Sallinger says there is no record of an unprovoked coyote attack on a grown man or woman anywhere in the United States. Ever. That might have been a relief to Renee Glasgow, a Portland real estate broker who got an unexpected welcome when she returned to her home near Oregon Health and Science University several years ago. “We pulled in one night and there were seven or eight of them in the driveway,” she remembers. “It’s startling. They didn’t tear off. They’re not terrified. You almost can’t believe it.” Sallinger says it’s not unusual for coyotes to seem rather casual in encounters with humans. After all, they are in their normal habitat. In fact, Sallinger says, problems with coyotes, as well as other wildlife like squirrels and raccoons, often begin when humans make friendly overtures like offering food to the animals. “When I start to worry is when they show unusual comfort around humans,” he says. Despite their small size — Sallinger says he has never seen one more than 30 pounds — coyotes are capable of preying on young children. Sallinger says one such incident in California followed a family’s attempt to fraternize. “We have stories of coyotes playing with dogs,” he says. “It’s not something I would recommend. It’s cute until the coyotes get hungry.” Sallinger and others with the Audubon Society of Portland offer periodic public workshops on coexisting with coyotes and other urban wildlife. There, the message is simple: Coyotes should not be seen as out of place in urban areas, do not pose any real threat to humans and are, in fact, good neighbors. “Their presence is positive, period,” Sallinger says. “They have an important niche to fill.” Besides, he says, after 1.8 million years on the block, they’re not going anywhere. “People are completely unaware that they’re around. They are all around us all the time. Regardless of what you do, you’re going to continue to have coyotes in your neighborhood.”