High-ranking city officials voice opposition to proposed plan

Although western Travis County homeowners have long heard the howls of nearby coyotes, residents may soon have a plan of action should they encounter the wild animals on their property.

On Nov. 6, Austin City Council postponed approval of a coyote conflict management policy recommended by the Austin City Council Public Health and Human Services Committee to Nov. 20. The committee includes council members Mike Martinez, Laura Morrison and Chris Riley, the sponsor of the original measure.

The proposal allows for the lethal removal of coyotes by city animal services if there has been an attack on humans or leashed or attended pets, Animal Advisory Commission Chairman David Lundstedt said. The AAC presented its recommendations Oct. 21 to the PHHSC.

The plan has undergone numerous revisions over the past seven months, Lundstedt said. The current version permits the use of live release box traps to catch the coyotes who will then be transferred to the Austin Animal Center to be euthanized—a change from the original plan allowing leg hold traps.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, one of the most common devices used to capture coyotes is a leg hold trap, which can cause severe injuries, pain and suffering as well as allow for pets, other wildlife and humans to become unintended victims of the mechanism. A box trap allows the coyote to be taken unharmed in a cage-like trap.

The AAC reviewed Austin's 311 nonemergency call records for June through August 2013 and found that none of the four reported coyote sightings involved attacks, Lundstedt said.

"Coyotes don't attack people," he said. "In the entirety of North America, there [is] an average of 10 coyote attacks on people annually. Most of them are due to dumb human behavior.

"Naturally, there's going to be incidents anytime you live next to a greenbelt or Shoal Creek where coyotes are going to be living."

Most of the attacks on humans are the result of people who are trying to feed coyotes out of their hands, PHHSC member Larry Tucker said.

The policy also includes a funded education program to teach residents about coyote behavior.

"A big part of this policy is education," Lundstedt said. "Not only do you need to educate coyotes to be scared of humans again, but you need to educate the humans on what to do if they live around coyotes."

He cited actions, such as residents leaving pet food outside, not keeping dogs on a leash or letting cats out at night, that lead to coyote attacks.

"A lot of these behaviors by people are what causes problems [with coyotes]," Lundstedt said.

The policy is consistent with methods adopted by the Humane Society, which advocate that residents haze coyotes—use loud noises, shouts, whistles and water pistols—to frighten the coyotes and encourage them to go elsewhere.

"Hazing activities instill fear of humans in coyotes," Lundstedt said.

Staffers oppose proposed policy

High-ranking city of Austin officials voiced opposition to the proposed coyote management plan in a letter to the city's mayor and council members.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and Sara Hensley, Parks and Recreation Department director, joined Chief Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith in the Nov. 3 correspondence requesting council members maintain the city's current Dangerous Wildlife Mitigation Policy implemented with Travis County in 2005.

The letter cites the proposed policy's single method of capture—using live-release box traps—as inefficient. The proposed policy only permits action in response to aggressive coyote behavior after a person or pet is injured instead of the current policy that permits biologists of Texas Wildlife Services to act before an animal or human is hurt, it states.

TWS advised the letter writers that, under the proposed policy, it cannot effectively respond to residents' requests for assistance within city limits. This situation either leaves citizens without any remedy for coyote issues or puts the issues in the hands of park rangers or police officers who are not trained to handle wildlife, it states.

"The need for dangerous wildlife mitigation remains critical as Austin continues to grow and infringe on the coyote's habitat," the letter states. "The passage of the proposed coyote policy will endanger our citizens and their pets and leave the city of Austin with no reasonable response to aggressive coyote behavior, even after a person or pet is attacked."