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Some Nevadans Howl Over Coyotes, But What Risk Do They Really Pose?


Coyotes are so prevalent in Nevada that the state can’t even estimate how many there are.

The coyote, or canis latrans, is related to dogs and wolves and can be found in the mountains and the deserts, the suburbs and the cities. They live in every state but Hawaii.

They might not be seen, though, because they typically try to avoid humans. But when they are spotted, they can cause concern.

In Las Vegas, coyote encounters have been reported recently along the western rim of the valley, where construction is booming.

Doug Nielsen with the Nevada Department of Wildlife said that the type of development going up presents a "buffet" to coyotes. The trees, shrubs, and water features provide homes for the rodents, which is the main source of food for coyotes.

"In essence, we've rolled out the kitchen table and dressed it with food and now we want to pick and choose who comes to dinner but you can't do that," he said.

Nielsen said that coyotes will also attack pets. Sometimes they'll attack dogs because they'll see them as competitors in their territory.

Lynsey White with the Humane Society of the United States says the problem of coyotes in urban areas is not unique to the Southwest. Coyotes are everywhere and interact with people all the time.

She said the best way to get rid of them is by "teaching" them where you don't want them to be. She said when you don't react to a coyote being in your backyard, for instance, you are teaching them that people are not dangerous and it is okay to be there. 

White said the best way to teach is using a technique called "hazing."

"If we see a coyote and they don't appear to be afraid of us, what we should always do is to try to scare him or her away," she said, "Essentially, we're just trying to look big and loud, look scary to the coyote."

She suggested putting your hands over your head to look larger, use something like a whistle or air horn to make a loud sound, or open and close an umbrella to scare away the animal.

Nielsen agreed that hazing is a good way for homeowners to scare coyotes away.

"If we just are complacent and let them grow comfortable in our neighborhoods then we're just helping create the problems," he said, "You can't be timid about it."

He said people need to use a forceful voice and actions to get the animal to go away. If you're worried about getting attacked, Nielsen said it is unlikely. 

In the 25 years he's been with the department, Nielsen has only heard of four people being bitten by a coyote and two of those were because people were trying to hand feed them.

In the rural areas, the problem with coyotes is a little tougher to solve.

Jason Schroeder has organized a coyote hunt in Northern Nevada for the past five years because of the impact the animals have had on ranches in the area. 

"We go on these ranches it's a way for us to help eliminate some of those packs that are running around the ranches," he said.

Coyotes will attack calves and lambs during the birthing season, costing ranchers money. 

There have been organized protests of Schroeder's hunts by people opposed to killing coyotes. Schroeder said many of the people that are protesting are misinformed.

"The purpose of our hunt is to try to help the ranchers," he said "It's an organized hunt. It's something we focus on and make sure everybody is doing everything by the book."

He said the hunters follow all the rules outlined by the state. It is not illegal to hunt or trap coyotes, which are not protected by the state, but there are limits on when and where you can trap the animals.

White said while she understands why Schroeder and other hunters want to cut down on the coyote population she and the Humane Society don't agree with their methods. She believes teaching coyotes to stay away along with other measures like high fences and keeping livestock indoors are better deterrents. 

And in fact, White said culling the coyote population by shooting them can actually have the opposite effect because when their numbers start to dwindle females will go into heat more often and have larger litters.

Nielsen said they are some of the adaptable animals on the planet.

The Humane Society of the United States offers tips here, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife has published this fact sheet about coyotes.

Doug Nielsen, Nevada Department of Wildlife; Jason Schroeder, Northern Nevada coyote hunt organizer; Lynsey White, Humane Society of the United States

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Nikole Robinson Carroll is KNPR's Morning Edition host. You can hear her every morning from 5am until 10am on News 889. She also produces segments for KNPR's State of Nevada.
With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.