Killing pesky coyotes not the solution, say Calgary conservation officials

City councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart would like the city to kill or relocate coyotes sparking complaints by residents in Panorama Hills, but conservationists says the solution is not that simple.

'I want to know what all the options are to get rid of them,' urges Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart

Denning coyotes in the city's northwest have forced the city close pathways and put up warning signs in the Panorama Hills after reports of "protective behaviour" from the animals. (CC0 Public Domain/Pixabay)

Killing or relocating urban coyotes does not work, say city conservationists, responding to a councillor's urging for more aggressive tactics with the ongoing problem in Calgary's Panorama Hills neighbourhood.

Earlier this week, Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart suggested the city "get rid" of the coyotes by moving or killing them to deal with citizens' concerns. The city has closed pathways and put up warning signs, but the problem persists, she says.

Colley-Urquhart said the issue has gone on for too long and tougher tactics are needed. 

"I think we've lost control of this whole issue and we need to be much more aggressive on this," she said. "I want to know what all the options are to get rid of them. This problem has continued to escalate over the last three years, and I'd say it's the worst it's been right now.  

"When you forfeit public space and close down parks because coyotes are raising their young and having these dens, this will get to the point where it will put people at risk. It's not just going to be animals that will get injured."  

Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart is advocating for a cull or relocation of coyotes in Panorama Hills where there has been ongoing problem with coyote encounters. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Learning to live with coyotes

But city conservation officials counter this is not a simple, one-solution problem. Though there is reason to be concerned about urban coyotes, destroying or moving them is not effective, said Chris Manderson, urban conservationist with the city's parks department. 

"The fact of the matter is those things don't work," Manderson told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday. "Coyotes are here; they're well established in the city."

While reducing conflicts is important, he said, "We want to foster co-existence."

Euthanization is not the city's first line of defence, he added.

Relocating the animals just moves the problem to another area.

"Other places don't want our problem coyotes, for starters," he said.

Chris Manderson with Calgary Parks says killing coyotes often results in them breeding more, exacerbating the problem. (CBC)

Manderson said killing the animals is only a "last option," when a coyote is exhibiting behavioural problems.

In fact, he said, culling coyotes has shown they'll breed faster and come back in bigger numbers.

He defended the decision to close pathways in Panorama Hills, which was done after a family of coyotes — two adults and several pups — were denning in an area where there were a lot of people around.

But people continue to use the pathways

"You get that very protective behaviour," Manderson said. "Our first solution there was to remove the conflict. We closed the park to give them some space.

"We will give the adults the chance to raise their pups and move on. The problem is if we start moving every animal that may be a potential threat, we are not going to reduce the population."

What is aggressive coyote behaviour?

The goal is to make sure the animals don't return to make a den there again, he said.

The city receives roughly 200 calls a year about coyotes, said Sheila Johnstone with the city's media relations department. 

About 70 per cent of the callers report aggressive behaviour, which can include small pets disappearing from a backyard to a coyote that won't move from a path when approached.

"We need to make sure … that we're sorting out what is truly aggressive as opposed to perceived," Manderson said."Then say, on balance, what is the best solution here?"

Manderson said many of the complaints are "normal coyote behaviour, defensive behaviour."

Meanwhile, Manderson noted the city is getting advice from Alberta Fish and Wildlife.

City staff have learned that if they conduct a cull, they will likely get even more complaints.

Humane solutions 

Manderson cited the city's attempt in 2014 to conducted lethal beaver trapping. It was done "only because we had to. We need to have that as part of our toolbox," he said. 

He'd like to proceed with caution with the coyote situation, too. 

"We want to show that we are doing it humanely … and we're not unintentionally throwing the system out of balance."

Manderson said anyone who has a problem with a coyote should call the city's 311 line to report it. 

The city conducted lethal trapping of beavers in 2014, but called the move a last resort. (Shutterstock / Ronnie Howard)

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener