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14 January 2010 @ 10:54 pm
The Great Coyote Kill  

The United Nations proclaimed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is a term which encompasses the variety of life on Earth, the variability among living organisms, and the variability within and between ecosystems. The UN recognizes that our planet's diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate because of human activities. It declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity as an opportunity to celebrate life on earth, to increase understanding of the value of biodiversity and the vital role that it plays in sustaining life on our planet, and motivate people around the world to take action to safeguard our irreplaceable natural wealth.

Conservation and the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat are among the top issues facing the world today. I was therefore sickened when I read that one of Ottawa's City Councillors, Doug Thompson, is calling for a campaign to kill coyotes in the Osgoode area. In fact, the Osgoode Township Fish Game and Conservation Club is sponsoring a contest called the “Great Coyote Cull Contest”. The reason for this campaign: the inevitable conflict between humans and wildlife that results from living in such close proximity to each other.

Coyote on Amherst Island

The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre strongly opposes this contest. It states that the coyotes’ only crime is trying to survive in the face of extensive development in Osgoode, where human encroachment has taken away their habitat and traditional food sources and where the City has done little, if any, planning to protect natural areas under development and/or resolve conflicts intelligently.

The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre also notes that more than 150 years of trying to eradicate coyotes has been unsuccessful. The coyote is not only an extremely adaptable animal but, as a predator, is needed to keep the ecological system in balance. Such eradication attempts are judged to be a waste of public money. The Wildlife Centre claims that Ottawa must do better than respond to complaints with an "18th-century response" which is both ill-informed and inhumane. It believs the City of Ottawa needs to establish policies to protect wildlife habitat and respond to human-wildlife conflicts with proactive prevention and education approaches.

I was appalled when I heard of this. Surely we are more advanced and better-educated than our forebears and have better ways of dealing with human-wildlife conflicts in the twenty-first century? I also dislike the word "cull" as it seems to imply a sterile and bloodless way of removing coyotes. Why not be up front about it and use the word "kill"? Or better yet, "barbaric slaughter"?

About Coyotes

Coyotes are resourceful and feed on whatever food is available such as rabbits, squirrels, mice, reptiles, grasshoppers, frogs, berries, garden vegetables, carrion, garbage, and even pets. Their opportunistic feeding habits and resourcefulness are largely the reasons why farmers and people in rural areas dislike coyotes.

The population of coyotes is increasing not only for natural reasons such as their ability to find food anywhere at any time of year and their high reproductive success, but also because of man's alteration of the landscape. The clearing of forests and development of land for agricultural purposes provide attractive habitat for the coyote, as well as an increase in carrion from domestic livestock, an important source of food for coyotes in winter.

Not only has the clearing of the land improved the habitat for the coyote, it has also resulted in the reduction of one of the most important checks on coyote populations: the grey wolf. Not only do wolves typically exclude coyotes from their territories, they may also prey on them. However, wolves prefer large, unfragmented forests, and as these have diminished in Ontario, so have the wolf populations.

Living with Coyotes

Given the abundance of these animals, even in well-populated areas, it is important to learn how to co-exist with them. Keeping small pets indoors at night and also removing attractions such as pet food, garbage, and dead livestock are important.

Trapping and killing coyotes are ineffective as these practices only remove the less intelligent members of the population. Killing coyotes disrupts the social order of the pack and the population structure, causing more coyotes to breed and have larger litters. Coyotes from other areas will also expand into regions where coyotes have been removed. Because removal efforts frequently lead to increases in local coyote populations, they are generally pointless and have proven unsuccessful in the long term.

The Cull

Councillor Thompson states that coyotes are a serious problem in his ward and claims that these animals are believed to have killed hundreds of pets and farm animals in Osgoode in the past three years. While he admits there has been a lot of controversy over how to deal with the coyotes, he believes the Ministry of Natural Resources will ultimately decide to cull the coyotes.

In addition to the proposed cull, the Osgoode Township Fish Game and Conservation Club is sponsoring the “Great Coyote Cull Contest” which will enable participants to "win great prizes and keep our region safe". For a toonie and proof of their cull (aka kill), entrants receive one ballot. One of the prizes is a shotgun.

What no one has mentioned until recently is that the City drops off road-killed animals in a pit in Osgoode near a residential area. A city worker came forward anonymously, citing this pit and the easy, reliable source of carrion as the reason why Osgoode has so many coyotes.

This automatic response to kill the animals causing the problem is unenlightened and outrageous in this day and age where conservation and the environment are critical issues facing governments around the world. It shows a heartless lack of understanding of and respect for the animals themselves and our own contribution to the problem. The people calling for the slaughter of these animals do not appear to value biodiversity nor realize its value. They do not seem to realize that the coyote, just like every other species, has its own role in the ecosystem; if there is conflict, it is not because the animal has overstepped its role, but rather because we have overstepped ours and the coyote is merely reacting to that. They are condemning all these animals to death for the simple crime of trying to survive in habitat we took away from them.

I felt strongly enough about this cull that I wrote to my own City Councillor as well as Mayor O'Brien, copying the Minister of Natural Resources on my email:

January 6, 2010

Dear Councillor Feltmate:

This email responds to Ottawa Councillor Doug Thompson's plan to respond to the coyote "infestation" in the Osgoode Ward by proposing a “Great Coyote Cull Contest” sponsored by the Osgoode Township Fish Game and Conservation Club.

This proposal is not only sickening, but also outrageous and unenlightened in a time when wildlife protection and conservation are among the top issues facing the world today. The City of Ottawa should be deeply ashamed that one of its first acts of 2010, the Year of International Biodiversity no less, is to plan the disgraceful and senseless slaughter of an animal whose only crime is to try to survive in the face of decreasing habitat due to urban expansion. And it would seem that the City of Ottawa does in fact consider this a crime after its attempt to "manage" the Canada Goose population at Andrew Haydon Park this past summer and autumn. Not only did it fail, but indirectly encouraged the poisoning of these beautiful birds...a number of them were taken to the Wild Bird Care Center to be treated after ingesting beans which were suspected of being laced with poison.

Your website publishes your public call for the City to curb urban sprawl, citing "problems with traffic congestion and city facilities bursting at the seams". But what about the wildlife that is displaced when developers tear down forests, fill in wetlands, and build on land that once supported an amazing diversity of life? The land the wildlife once freely roamed and called their home has now been taken over by houses and shopping centers, which often results in direct conflicts with humans.

However, suggesting that the solution to the problem is to kill wildlife simply for trying to survive in an altered habitat is appalling and barbaric. This approach does not promote a sensitive or respectful attitude toward wildlife, biodiversity, or the sanctity of life. Turning it into a contest is even worse, encouraging anyone with a toonie to go ahead and wantonly slaughter these animals without ensuring that such animals are not subjected to torture, cruelty or inhumane treatment while being "culled". Our civilization learned from the Christmas "Side Hunts" of the late nineteenth century, another contest whose goal was to see which party could bring in the largest amount of carcasses from birds and mammals that they shot; today, we no longer kill but count birds in an international tradition known as the Christmas Bird Count. Councillor Thompson's “Great Coyote Cull Contest” appears to be an attempt to return to the days of such unenlightened and unchecked slaughter.

Instead of teaching citizens (who may or may not be as environmentally-conscious as we would expect our leaders and city councillors to be) that the only answer is to destroy wildlife, the City of Ottawa should be leading the way in establishing policies to protect wildlife habitat and responding to human-wildlife conflicts with proactive prevention and education approaches. Surely we are more advanced and more knowledgable than our forebears and have better ways to deal with wildlife problems in the twenty-first century.

I hope it is not too late to stop the proposed slaughter from happening. I hope, too, that you find this proposed contest as sickening and appalling as I do and will oppose it in any way you can.


Gillian Mastromatteo
Kanata, ON

Councillor Feltmate sent me a response the following day. It appears she is sympathetic to the impact that expansion of urban and country subdivisions has on wildlife, and does not view any wildlife cull as a solution due to ethical and safety issues, also admitting that any solution would be very temporary. However, she also stated that wildlife management issues fall under provincial jurisdiction, and as such, City Council did not discuss the "Great Coyote Cull Contest." She advised that copying the Minister of Natural Rersources on my email is important as it is her department that sets the rules for hunting coyotes.

To date Mayor O'Brien has not responded to me.

If anyone reading this blog opposes this cull, please consider adding your voice to the protest. It does not matter if you do not live in Ottawa or Ontario; people have been voicing their shock from as far away as Vancouver and California. It does not matter if your letter isn't long; a simple email saying you oppose the slaughter and asking the Minister to consider a more humane solution would help.

Contact information:

Donna Cansfield, Minister of Natural Resources – dcansfield.mpp@liberal.ola.org
Mayor Larry O’Brien – Larry.OBrien@Ottawa.ca
Councillor Doug Thompson - Doug.Thompson@ottawa.ca

The above photo was taken on Amherst Island in February 2009. The coyote was crossing an open field so far away that you can the heat shimmer in the photo. This was the first of only two coyotes I have seen since moving to Kanata, and the only photo I have taken to date. I hope to get a much better photo of these beautiful, much-maligned animals someday.
bigdaveinchina on January 17th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
The osgoode coyote cull
I'm not really a supporter of organised kills such as the one planned for "Osgoode but I'd react rather hostilely,I think,to words like "unenlightened" or "barbaric" and "sickening" or "appalling" if I approved of the cull.If you want to protect the coyotes in their shrinking habitat,the best way is to educate the locals regarding biodiversity.If you're dealing with a community which is redneck to the bone,then you're left with the creation and implementation of policies which probably wouldn't be respected as much as winning an expensive shotgun would be.

People who are "advanced"learn to value compromise;people who are knowledgeable struggle with making concessions to those who can't seem to adjust to their place in time.My instincts tell me that the cull participants are not a group I'd feel comfortable with,given that sensitivity doesn't appear to be their strong suit.Hopefully you'll be successful,Gillian,in finding an alternative to a murderous(and still ineffective)solution.Nature needs friends who are not motivated by profit or pleasure.It welcomes you,I'm sure.
(Anonymous) on January 21st, 2010 10:59 pm (UTC)
Osgoode "Cull"
First I'd like to thank you, Gillian, for voicing your opinion, though I fear it may have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps if more people like you would rally together, you could make enough noise that even the politicians could hear you.

I completely agree that "culls" in general are ineffective, since a dramatic drop in population one year usually creates a dramatic increase in following years (i.e. greater availability of food sources, higher reproductive success, etc.) The real problem is not that we can't find better solutions to the human-nature conflict, but that those solutions interfere with our other intentions, and those intentions always win out. The mayor (and City Council for that matter) are more concerned with maintaining an increasing sprawl, because more people in Ottawa mean more taxes, which means more money to play with on unnecessary and unwanted projects like the light-rail system. The City may say they want to reduce sprawl, but one only needs to look around the suburbs of Ottawa to see that that statement is nonsense. The concept of living with Nature, rather than displacing it, interferes with multi-million-dollar housing projects that have been in planning for years. Which do you think will win out in the end? It's the developers every time...I know, I used to work for one.

More damage has been done in the name of "progress" and "development" than it is comfortable to think about. I hope others speak out like you have, and thank you for posting the contact information of the decision-makers, that will help tremendously.

- P. Blake
(Anonymous) on February 22nd, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)
Your blog entry on coyotes
Hi Gillian, Well done! I hadn't realized that you had posted this. Good for you, am so glad that you have done so. It is a small but vocal minority that is whipping up a frenzied hysteria that would have us believe coyotes are stalking every street, every farm, every backyard, waiting to attack! What nonsense! Coincidentally, I came across an article from about 8 years ago in which the same sort of hysteria was being promulgated by a few, about Fishers! Substitute the word coyote for the word fisher in the article and it could have been written today. I think, however, that the politicians are realizing that despite the redneck cry of "kill the coyotes", most people are definitely opposed and they are moving toward a wildlife strategy that will look at educating people about living near wildlife. At least, I hope so. On thing that needs to be done, however, is to change the provincial law that at present allows coyotes to be hunted year round with no limit on numbers killed. That is a big issue that needs to be addressed! Cheers, Christine