From the Editor: July 2010
Coops and Coyotes
By Kristy Nudds
A June 14 Vancouver Sun article entitled “Want to keep backyard
chickens? Here’s what you need to know” intrigued me. But, it wasn’t
because the article highlighted Vancouver city council’s passing of a
bylaw amendment the previous week that will allow the rearing of laying
hens in urban backyards.
A June 14 Vancouver Sun article entitled “Want to keep backyard chickens? Here’s what you need to know” intrigued me. But, it wasn’t because the article highlighted Vancouver city council’s passing of a bylaw amendment the previous week that will allow the rearing of laying hens in urban backyards.
What piqued my interest was a sentence that reads, “Members (of the sustainable living organization Village Vancouver) can also keep an eye out for coyotes, raccoons or human predators and spread the word when they present a threat.”
Raccoons and humans in an urban area, I get that – but coyotes? The statement is so matter of fact, as though coyotes in urban areas are as commonplace as rabbits and robins.
But then I thought about what I had witnessed just five days earlier while returning to Edmonton after visiting a poultry farmer north of the city. As I approached an area with road construction signs up ahead that was obviously being prepared for a new housing development or shopping mall, what I initially thought was a wolf darted in front of my rental car.
As a lover of wildlife I was over the moon that this animal had graced me with its presence. I continued my trek into the city on the Yellowhead Trail, drove through additional areas of new development and construction, and got stuck at a traffic light for what seemed like an eternity. Then I saw movement out of the corner of my right eye – I looked to the right and saw several little animals running alongside the exit ramp beside my lane. They gathered a short distance later and stood up on their back legs in the pose I had only ever seen before on a nature television show: they were prairie dogs!
I remember laughing at the sight and thinking to myself, “who needs to go to Banff National Park to see wildlife in Alberta?” The prairie dogs seemed to be staring intently at something off in the distance, so I turned my head even farther to the right – and there stood a coyote, not more than 300 metres from my car.
This sighting didn’t make me feel all warm and mushy inside; instead, I thought about how very close this animal was to the newly built houses surrounding the highway.
I’ve seen coyotes close to urban areas here in Ontario, but never that close. I was curious to know how prevalent this was and discovered an Illinois-based urban coyote research coalition called the Coyote Project. In Chicago alone, the number of “nuisance” animals removed from the city jumped from fewer than 15 animals in the early 1990s to more than 300 animals a year between 1996 and 2009. New York city and Toronto have also reported sightings and trappings of coyotes in urban parks and some residents had small dogs and cats become dinner for a coyote.
So my question is this – are backyard chicken enthusiasts, and their neighbours, going to get more than they bargained for? Due to exploding coyote populations in rural areas in several provinces last year, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia reintroduced a bounty program, and in Saskatchewan alone 71,000 animals have been killed since November. What no one seems to be talking about is the reality that hunting and development could possibly drive even more coyote populations into urban areas.
In addition to noise, disease risk and smell – the usual complaints of urban chicken opponents – both opponents and enthusiasts of the growing urban farming movement should seriously consider the risk of predation poses. More study is needed on this; perhaps both groups should look at the Illinois project for further understanding.