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Ward 3 News: Managing Human Wildlife Conflict in Calgary - Coyotes

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Ward 3 official website
coyote
Coyote parent watchful from a nearby hillside. Photo credit Vanessa Carney

Calgary Parks maintains approximately 4000 hectares (ha) of manicured and recreation space within the city, along with an equal area of natural environment parkland. Over the history of Calgary’s development into a major Canadian urban centre, key City policies like the Municipal Development Plan and Biodiversity Policy have been adopted by Council to guide the conservation of natural spaces across Calgary. Managing natural parks in urban and suburban neighbourhoods means striking a balance between protecting wild spaces to ensure they function properly and offering city-dwellers the opportunity to be in and experience nature at a nearby park. There's a growing body of scientific evidence that shows wildlife-rich natural environments offer measurable benefits to urban citizens’ health and happiness. But what happens when living near a natural park puts people and their wild neighbours in conflict? And what tools do municipalities in Alberta and residents have at their disposal to resolve these conflicts?

In spring 2017, several communities in Calgary that back onto the large green space adjacent to Country Hills Golf Course (Hidden Valley, Panorama Hills and Country Hills) reported escalating conflicts between park users and a family of coyotes living in the natural area park. Although it is uncommon to have close-up encounters with coyotes in cities, they can appear and act threateningly towards people at given times of the year. Sick or injured animals can display unpredictable behaviour at any time, as can coyotes that have been habituated to being fed by humans. Parent coyotes can often be quite protective, particularly in the spring when caring for pups in nearby dens. Dogs running off-leash frequently trigger either a predatory (hunting) instinct or provoke defensive behaviours in parent coyotes like growling, baring teeth and charging, as dogs are viewed as a threat or competition. More typically, coyotes choose several strategies for coexistence with humans within the urban setting, including blending in to their surroundings, hiding and digging their dens in thick groves of trees/along hillsides/under shrubs in secluded corners of a natural environment park.

After preliminary conflict investigation, Calgary Parks made the decision to close the heavily-used regional pathway after finding a coyote den directly adjacent to the pathway. The location of the den put the protective coyote parents, unwary park users and their dogs into conflict. The public and neighbours directly adjacent to the park were notified of the closure and signs were posted at main entrances and along the regional pathway. Unfortunately, the pathway closure failed to keep park users away from the den site, so Calgary Parks took the unusual step of closing the entire park to protect public safety and allow the coyote family to finish raising the pups in the den, after which coyote parents relax their protective behaviours.

Though The City will consider employing lethal control when other management options are ineffective or unavailable, it isn't a preferred method for resolving coyote conflicts in an urban environment. Promoting co-existence, investigating and reducing potential sources of conflict, hazing (i.e. re-instilling coyotes’ natural shyness by associating humans with loud, startling noises, for example) can be highly effective methods to re-establish balance in a park. Relocating the pack at the centre of the Panorama Hills area conflict was proposed by numerous concerned citizens contacting 311. This solution was given consideration by Parks, however, provincial permits would be required for any live wildlife movement in Alberta and coyotes aren't permitted to be captured and released elsewhere. Killing individual coyotes disrupts stable pack dynamics and can result in increased coyote numbers, as litter sizes rise.

The City, in formulating a wildlife conflict response, also considered what the current best scientifically-based knowledge on managing wildlife habitat in cities is. Managing conflict triggers like food habituation and off-leash dogs as threats during the denning season, as well as educating Calgarians to help The City encourage wildlife to remain wild and wary of people, are tested and effective ways to eliminate the majority of potential wildlife-human conflict. Other cities such as Denver, Chicago, Vancouver and various municipalities in Ontario incorporate these tactics into an incremental response model to manage coyote interactions with humans. Calgary is currently working on a similar protocol.

Calgary Parks received investigative support and wildlife conflict advice from a number of agencies through May and June, 2017, including Alberta Fish and Wildlife, Coyote Watch Canada and the University of Calgary, as City staff continued daily monitoring of coyotes in the closed park area. We were pleased to see the park closure begin to show the desired effect almost immediately as pups grew bigger and the family moved on from the pathway-adjacent den. Protective/aggressive behaviour observed from the parent coyotes diminished and they continue to exhibit more characteristic shy, avoidance behaviour. As a result, Parks has scheduled a phased re-opening of the park:

1. July 10-17, 2017 - Partial reopening of the park (open only along the regional pathway from 3 entrances, no dogs permitted in the park) while Parks continues to monitor coyotes and coyote-human interactions. On-site Environmental Educators will be offering information to park users and residents on conflict-reduction and coexistence strategies. Calgary Community Standards officers will also patrol to ensure public safety and compliance with re-opening conditions.

2. July 17, 2017 - Full green space re-opened to park users and on-leash dogs with continued monitoring by Parks.

The City of Calgary’s focus in reducing wildlife conflicts is on safety - both human and animal (pet and wild animals). We appreciate and rely on citizen reports of wildlife sighting to help Parks better understand wildlife distributions across Calgary, how they move around the urban fabric and make their homes in a busy city. Most importantly, it helps us detect where conflicts with people and pets might occur. Please continue to share your wildlife sightings with The City.

Where to report wildlife:

If there is an imminent threat or attack happening, call 9-1-1.
For all other wildlife sightings, contact 3-1-1.
*If the situation may pose a threat to human or animal safety or you're reporting a sick/injured wild animal, you may be asked to contact Alberta Fish and Wildlife directly.

For more information on the park re-opening, check: calgary.ca/parks
Additional information about coexisting with coyotes can be found at: coyotewatchcanada.com

*Front page photo: Pup sticking its head up out of the den. Photo credit Tony Le Prieur


This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

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