Dear Islanders:

There’s been a lot of talk on the Island recently about trapping and coyotes.   So I did what I always do when confronted with an issue I need to understand: I hit the books and gathered the facts. Part of that involved calling in some hunters and trappers as well as some of the anti-trapping supporters and making calls to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

After all that, I have come to a conclusion:  Coyotes get a bum rap and trapping isnt as dangerous as you might think.

There’s my hand, clear as day. Now please allow me to explain.

The reason you see more Coyotes is because of the increased development

There was a report on the local news last week regarding the increased number of coyotes on the Island. The report cited no hard statistics. After that report, I had many people reaching out to me to tell me stories about Coyote attacks.  I considered investing in garlic and silver bullets!  But come to find out, the DEC has recorded no increase in coyote population. 

 “Wait Nate,” you might be thinking. “Why am I seeing more of them than usual?” and “What about all the howling I hear?” Apparently, the reason for that is because developers recently cleared a lot of land on Grand Island. Specifically, that huge patch of old woods right at the center of the Island for the “Heron Pointe” project, i.e., the new apartments across from Sunoco and Dunkin Donuts.  The coyotes have been displaced and are finding new homes. 

Coyotes are rarely a threat to your pets

Coyotes are mostly omnivores who supplement their diet with insects and rodents. According to the DEC, coyotes will only threaten your pets if their preferred food sources are exhausted.  Another misconception is that coyotes carry rabies.  In fact it is extremely rare for coyotes to be rabid.  They can be inflicted with distemper, which has similar symptoms, but it is not harmful to humans.  

It is extremely rare for coyotes to pose a threat to humans.  Just as we are instinctively scared of them – they are more afraid of us.  We have villainized coyotes in our minds.  This reminds me of the book Before Adam by Jack London.  It starts off with a tale of a young boy at a circus. He sees a lion and hears it roar and he is immediately terrified. Something deep within him is triggered—back eons when men were preyed upon by wild beasts. The book reads:

“When I was five years old I went to my first circus. I came home from it sick--but not from peanuts and pink lemonade . . . [a]s we entered the animal tent . . . I tore my hand loose from my father's and dashed wildly back through the entrance . . . Ah, I knew him on the instant. The beast! The terrible one!”

Coyotes might not be the blood-thirsty scoundrel we picture them to be, but they are still wild animals and have to be treated as such.  Other animals and dangers such as fox, birds of prey and cars are as likely to cause harm to your pets; but when their food sources are low, coyotes can and will hunt your pets as well.  It is always best to air on the side of caution.  And if you notice something out of the usual, please report it immediately – either to us at Town Hall and/or the DEC.

No more traps in our parks and on our trails

Now, onto trapping.  I ran a survey on my personal website regarding trapping. And it was overwhelmingly pro-trapping. Now, I know that it was not a scientific survey. But the DEC, and most of the experts I spoke with advised me not to ban trapping on the Island.  And here is a perfect example of how these issues are intertwined; according to AgriLife – Wildlife Services, “Regulated trapping and hunting are the most effective ways to manage coyotes.”

Now, for every opinion there is a counter opinion.  I also received many emails and letters from residents who are passionately against trapping. They are scared that their pet or small child will be hurt by the trap or in the least be subject to seeing an animal suffering.  These are valid points, but I have learned the traps used these days are more humane than those snapping claws that we picture when we think of a trap.  Picture Wile E. Coyote trying to trap the Roadrunner!  They aren’t like that anymore. It is almost impossible for a human, even a toddler, to be seriously hurt if they stepped on a legal modern-day trap.   Indeed, the DEC has never recorded one complaint of a human being getting hurt by a trap in NY State. 

Thus, I have decided on a compromise. I will recommend to the Town Board that we create a law preventing trapping in our town parks and on our trails.  We don’t want trapping anywhere near high traffic areas.  This step will not go as far as some have hoped for: namely a total ban on trapping on all of town land. I cannot, however, make such a recommendation given the information I have gathered. I also think a limited ban is appropriate given my strong desire to maintain the semi-rural nature of the Island and to protect traditional forms of recreation and sport here. Further, there are less than a handful of people currently trapping on Grand Island.  We would also have to deal with the issue of enforcement if we did a total ban.    

Should we ever find that a danger is posed to our community, we would work with authorities to get it under control – whether it is a dangerously high coyote population or having the Island covered in traps.  Right now, we do not see either as a threat to our daily safety.  I think this middle ground is a fair compromise given the facts before us.  BUT, I'm still open to hear your opinions. We have a public hearing on this issue at the Board Meeting at Town Hall - Monday, March 7th at 8 pm.  Do your own research and join in the conversation. 

With sincere regards,