Island coyotes: Expert will share insights to keep livestock, pets safe

The island’s animal predators have received considerable attention this summer, and next week islanders will have a chance to learn more about living with some of those predators — coyotes — at a presentation by an expert from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The island’s animal predators have received considerable attention this summer, and next week islanders will have a chance to learn more about living with some of those predators — coyotes — at a presentation by an expert from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The event, focused on keeping livestock and pets safe, is organized by islanders Maggi McClure — who many know as the creator of the annual sheepdog trials — and Lyndsey Braun-Palmer, who owns sheep with McClure on Maury Island. Coyotes are on Vashon to stay, Braun-Palmer said, and after repeated losses of island animals to coyotes, including several of their own sheep, the women invited Brook Zscheile, a district supervisor at the Department of Agriculture, to the island. At the presentation, billed as “Coyotes, Cougars and Bears, Oh My,” Zscheile will discuss coyotes’ behavior and management of the animals as well as answer questions. The goal of the presentation is education for all people who are interested, Braun-Palmer said, whether they be livestock or pet owners or simply islanders who want to know more about the animals, who can be found in every part of Vashon and Maury islands.

“We are all adapting to having coyotes,” Braun-Palmer said. “It is a change and one we are trying to understand.”

Coyotes are not native to Vashon, but according to a recent report from the Vashon Nature Center, the animals have been on the island since at least the 1960s. Now, nature center estimates are that there about 45 animals predominantly in four or five wide-ranging family groups, though some islanders, including Braun-Palmer and veterinarian Dana Ness believe the numbers are higher. The animals can benefit the island by reducing the deer and rodent population, experts say, but they can also cause substantial problems, particularly for livestock and pet owners, who have animals killed or injured by coyotes.

Anecdotally and according to the nature center report, “encounters” between domesticated animals and coyotes has increased every year since 2011. In that time, out of 338 reports about coyotes, there were 31 reports of encounters between coyotes and domestic animals, with the majority of incidents involving killed sheep, both lambs and adults, and the other reports involving domestic fowl, dogs and cats. The authors of the report, Bianca Perla and John Rupp, said they were conservative in what included as an encounter. Indeed, Braun-Palmer says she believes coyotes have killed 30 to 40 sheep on the island this year alone. Additionally, Ness, who owns Fair Isle Animal Clinic, says the clinic is has seen a marked increase in coyote killings of pets in recent years, including far more lost cats, some of which are suspected of having been killed by coyotes, and injured or killed dogs, including one dog at the north end, who has been hurt in its yard three times by coyotes, which each attack growing worse than the last.

“It is pretty different than what we have had to deal with in the past,” Ness said.

The lost cat board at the clinic used to have only a few cats listed on it, she added, but now, it is typically full, with at least 10 cats listed there. In fact, she said she believes coyotes are island cats’ largest predator, followed by cars.

The Nature Center report succinctly sums up the trend: “The increase in encounters indicates that our community needs to work harder to safeguard our pets and livestock,” it states.

For her part, Braun-Palmer has started a Facebook page, Vashon Island Coyote Watch, and is partnering with the Vashon Nature Center to track reports of coyotes and their actions. Regarding her sheep, she has a horse and llama with them to protect them, but she continued to lose animals to coyotes and is planning to purchase livestock guardian dogs.

Some suggestions for protecting livestock, however, are cost prohibitive, she added, noting the situation is a difficult one.

“It sure does take an emotional toll on you seeing an animal that you cared for killed,” she said.

Aware that there are diverse opinions about coyotes on the island, she said she does not want the meeting to be contentious, but to keep the focus on education, particularly in light of the fact that Vashon is an island, with limited places for the coyotes to roam.

In her search for solutions, she said she has read that over time, coyote populations will balance themselves out.

“What do we do in the meantime?” she said. “Education is part of that.”

The presentation will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, at the Land Trust Building. For additional information, see the Vashon Island Coyote Watch page on Facebook.

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