A Newport woman has gathered nearly 300 petition signatures from opponents to Middletown's plans to hire a .
, a Newport resident and former Middletown resident, has collected about 30 percent of the signatures from Aquidneck Island residents on hard-copy petitions made available at her "Vintage to Vogue" clothing store on Thames Street in Newport, and the rest from animal rights activists and opponents from across the United States and around the world through her online petition, titled "Stop the Mass Killing of Coyotes in Rhode Island."
“I just started (the petitions) because what they’re doing is wrong,” Gaines said at her store, which is open only on weekends.
Gaines intends to address the Middletown Town Council with others opposed to hunting coyotes at a meeting Monday night, before members vote on the final passage of a law change that would clear the way for the town to hire a coyote hunter.
Gaines started her in-store petition about 10 days ago, several days after the Middletown Town Council took the first steps to change a local law that would enable a professional hunter to obtain a special temporary permit from the Middletown Police Department to use a rifle, instead of a shotgun, to hunt coyotes. Police have said the change in law is first necessary to hire a coyote hunter.
Gaines remains concerned that a rush to action and public pressure is not in the best interest of the coyotes or the island. An animal rights activist for many years, Gaines maintains that killing coyotes will not solve the problem but instead will result in ultimately producing more coyotes in their place, when packs self-populate and increase their breeding cycles as an instinctive response to replace the eliminated coyotes.
“I worry that fear and ignorance is creating a vigilante reaction,” Gaines said.
Local officials have said the coyote hunter would target those coyotes identified as the “troublemaker” coyotes, such as those that have become more fearless of humans and have been subsidized by food sources supplied by humans. This includes direct feeding and indirect feeding from pet food and poorly secured garbage left outside, as well as farm animal carcasses.
Gaines’ critics have questioned why the Newport resident is getting involved in a Middletown matter.
But Gaines considers the problem an island-wide issue.
“First of all, Middletown and Newport are so close. The coyotes don’t know where one town line ends and the other begins,” she said.
She is also concerned that what happens in Middletown will set precedent for other towns in Rhode Island and elsewhere to follow.
“It’s not ‘not-my-problem’ because I live in Newport. It’s everyone’s problem,” Gaines said.
Coyotes have become a problem all over Aquidneck Island, but given the high concentration of coyotes in Middletown, local officials have led the coyote management discussion and involved officials from both Newport and Portsmouth, as well as state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and Aquidneck Island wildlife experts, in developing a coyote management plan that calls for short-term and long-term solutions.
Dr. Numi Mitchell, who is leading the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study and has been studying coyotes on Aquidneck Island, has advocated a long-term approach to involve the public in helping to cut off the coyotes’ subsidized food supply so that the wild animals will self-manage and reduce their own population over time.
However, the public’s escalating concerns, pet attacks in recent months, increasing reports of close encounters with humans in more populated areas during daytime hours, and residents’ fears that coyotes might attack a small child have prompted local officials to include the thinning of the herd with a professional hunter as part of its short-term solution plan.
Dr. Mitchell has agreed to work with the town and hunter so that coyote pups, along with nursing female coyotes, and coyotes collared as part of the ongoing study, will not be harmed.
Still, Gaines hopes that opponents to the proposed coyote hunt will raise enough concerns so Middletown officials will take the time to consider other options to reduce Aquidneck Island’s coyote population. Gaines noted that other alternatives are being used and studied in communities elsewhere in the United States, including the intentional sterilization of female coyotes through targeted food supplements and tested howling devices that could drive coyotes from territories.
An anonymous message board posting on Patch had previously announced that opponents to the coyote hunt, known as "Citizens Against the Killing of Coyotes," would gather prior to the Town Council meeting and might march to Town Hall in protest, but neither Gaines nor Patch was able to identify the person who made the announcement or confirm that the assembly or protest march would occur. A similar announcement was made on the e urging opponents to meet at the Town Hall at 6 p.m. but no contact person or further contact information was listed there as well.
Gaines said she will not march, but instead has encouraged opponents to the coyote hunt to speak at the Town Council meeting where concerns will officially be heard and recorded as a matter of public record.
The Middletown Town Council is scheduled to meet Monday night at 7 p.m., with a special public hearing to convene at 6 p.m. on an unrelated matter.
The meeting agenda includes the Second Reading of a proposed ordinance amendment that would enable a hunter to request a special temporary permit from the to use a rifle instead of a shotgun, as the town ordinance currently allows. The DEM permits the hunting of coyotes year-round in accordance with all state and local municipal hunting regulations and licensing requirements.