A standing-room only crowd of about 300 Aquidneck Island residents turned out for a Coyote Summit held at the cafeteria Tuesday night in Middletown.
Emotions at times ran high as some residents shared stories about frightening coyote sightings, missing or killed family pets, and concerns for the safety of children and the elderly. Some spoke of the disturbing sounds of squealing local wildlife under attack by coyotes near their homes.
Middletown resident Linda Dutra described the horror and grief over losing her beloved Yorkshire terrier Harry last year, as other neighbors nearby reported lost pets.
While Middletown has the largest numbers of coyotes on the island, similar stories from grief-stricken pet owners were shared by Portsmouth and Newport residents alike Tuesday night.
Scott Lyons, who lives on Sandy Point in Portsmouth, described how one coyote boldly ran between him and his young daughter while they were out trick-or-treating this last Halloween.
“That was too close for comfort,” he said.
In Newport, Ellery Road resident Bob Walker said his wife sometimes calls him from the driveway when she comes home late at night and finds a coyote outside their home. She’s afraid to get out of her car.
Another Portsmouth resident who lives next door to Rhode Island Nurseries described how her neighborhood has already seen one dog killed and three others attacked.
‘The coyotes are going to have to move out of my neighborhood or I am,” she said.
She also worried about the many children that play outside in her neighborhood.
Prior to the event, state Sen. Lou DiPalma said that his chief concern was that coyote attacks might escalate from pets to humans, especially children.
“I don’t want us as a community to look back at this issue before it’s too late and say ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve,’” DiPalma said. The senator said his hope was that bringing the wildlife experts together with local law enforcement and residents might spur discussions toward effective coyote management solutions.
Sen. DiPalma, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-District 74) and Chief Anthony Pesare organized Tuesday night’s Coyote Summit. A panel of local and state wildlife experts provided a presentation to help the public better understand why the coyote population is booming on Aquidneck Island, discuss management and safety practices, review hunting laws, hear concerns and answer questions.
Wildlife experts on the panel kept reiterating education and outreach as key to the long-term solution to the problem.
“Coyotes will readily accept food from humans, whether it’s by hand or leaving it out,” DEM Principle Wildlife Biologist Charles Brown said. ‘The feeding issue is a big problem.”
“Subsidizing” the coyotes’ food sources enables the animals to breed more pups, makes them more comfortable around human populations, and enables them to stay on the island in the winter when food is more scarce, explained Dr. Numi Mitchell, who’s leading the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study. For the last two years, the study has been tracking the coyote population through collaring and GPS technology.
Wildlife experts said coyotes first arrived on Aquidneck Island about 15 years ago and the population now includes about 50 regular territorial coyotes, with about another 150 coyotes that are transient.
Feeding coyotes is illegal, punishable by a $100 fine, experts reminded the audience. They discouraged leaving any pet food outdoors, feeding feral cats, feeding coyotes directly and leaving garbage cans open and accessible to coyotes. They also recommended keeping cats indoors and not leaving small animals tied up outside unattended.
Local and state officials encourage continued public input as solutions are sought. Coyote sightings or problems can be reported to DEM Wildlife Charles Brown at 789-0281.