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Biologist discusses steps to deal with coyotes

SoVaNow.com / December 11, 2013


Katie Martin, a district wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), briefed members of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors Monday on growing problems with coyotes in the area.

Coyotes, which she called second cousins to dogs, started their migration into Virginia in the early 1900s. Their numbers grew once their natural predators, the gray wolf and the mountain lion, became extinct in Virginia, said Martin.

The animal looks a lot like a German Shepherd, except it has a pointed nose and its color ranges from black to red to gray to white. Because of their numbers, coyotes breed only once a year, producing 4-6 pups with each litter. If their numbers start to diminish, Martin said coyotes will engage in a repopulation known as “density dependent repopulation.” As their numbers decrease, they will breed more often and have larger litters to keep up the population numbers in the area.

Since rural areas such as Southside provide an abundance of food, from small rodents to nuts and berries, and no natural predators, “coyotes are probably here to stay,” Martin told supervisors.

“Unfortunately there is no silver bullet to kill off coyotes, said Martin. However, one animal known to scare them off, according to Martin, is the donkey: “They hate dogs and therefore coyotes. They’ve been known to run one out of their pen.”

Martin says hunters often tell her that coyotes are killing off the quail and turkey populations in Virginia, but this is not true. Raccoons and possums often raid the nests of turkeys and quail, eating the eggs. “Coyotes do not particularly care for the eggs, but they will eat possums and raccoons.” In this way, the coyotes actually help the birds, Martin explained.

Similarly, coyotes are not killing off Virginia’s deer population. Their favorite food includes small rodents like rabbits, mice, possum and raccoons. It is mainly when those foods are scarce that coyotes will kill a weak or sick deer, and, on occasion, deer fawns in the first days of their life — when the fawns cannot run away — as well as domestic cats and small dogs.

Another myth shot down by Martin is that coyotes have been known to eat small children left unattended in the yard. Again, Martin says, this is not true. While coyotes are driven by food and are mainly meat eaters, the squalls of a young child will usually drive away the animal.

DGIF has not taken an official position on whether counties should offer a bounty on coyotes, but Martin said the tactic really doesn’t work. “You will need to kill off 70 percent of the coyotes in the area to stabilize the population. There’s a lot of abuse with the program.” There is often an increase in the number of dogs killed — people think they are coyotes — and there is no way of knowing if the coyote was killed in the county that offers the bounty.

She also says that lights, sirens, and propane canons don’t work when it comes to scaring off coyotes.

The best way to deal with them, Martin said, is good fencing and a guard animal, such as large dogs, donkeys or llamas. Hunting the animals locally is also useful. Since coyotes are considered nuisance animals, hunters are free to trap and kill the animals at any time, except on Sundays when Virginia law prohibits hunting.

Finally, the USDA offers a free program where an official will come to the area, determine by looking at killed prey if there is a coyote problem, and trap and kill or remove the animals.

For more information about dealing with coyotes, Martin said she can be reached at DGIF Farmville office, 107 Foxwood Drive. Farmville, VA 23901, or (434) 392-9645, or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

In other business, supervisors appropriated nearly $300,000 to the Commissioner of Revenue’s office to update its computer appraisal system. The contract to install the new software program will go to Concise Systems out of Roanoke.

According to Commissioner of Revenue Ed Taylor, the current Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) program was custom-designed by a computer technician with Datasynch Inc. The technician has since passed away, and the office is in need of an upgrade to the program.

Concise Systems, in their RFP response, offered to provide Taylor’s office with a customized CAMA application that uses the latest technology at the lowest price.

The contract offered to Concise Systems calls for the company to install and service the CAMA program, and train Taylor’s staff in the use of the program.

$9,500 previously appropriated to the county school division was transferred from the capital fund into the schools’ operations and maintenance budget to cover the cost of paving a parking lot at Clarksville Elementary School.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office was awarded a $2,571.27 supplemental appropriation to cover the cost of repairs for one of the vehicles damaged in an accident. Also, the supervisors voted to allow the Southside Health District to retain $38,821.93 in unspent funds from last fiscal year. The monies will offset normal operating expenses and pay to move their district office from the facility at 434 Washington Street to the site recently vacated by PATHS, at 969 Madison Street. The building originally housed the medical practice of Willoughby Hundley.

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