One of the great things about blogging and Social Media is that it facilitates connecting people and organizations who share similar interests so easily. A couple months ago I was contacted regarding a photo of mine (Coyote Running) that struck a chord with a non-profit working in the area of wildlife conservation, specifically as it relates to Coyotes. After an email exchange or two I granted use of my image in a new presentation used for community outreach and education. I attended their presentation here in San Francisco and was so impressed I wanted to share more about the organization with those that read my blog. Camilla Fox, the executive director of Project Coyote, was kind enough to take part in the following email interview:
1. What is Project Coyote and what motivated you to found the organization?
I founded Project Coyote in 2008 to foster a new approach in the way coyotes and other predators are viewed and “managed” in the United States. We are a coalition of wildlife scientists and educators providing a voice for native carnivores in wildlife management policy and practice and promoting compassionate conservation and coexistence. We champion progressive management policies that reduce human coyote/predator conflict, support and contribute to innovative scientific research, and help foster respect for and understanding of North America’s native Song Dog.
Prior to founding Project Coyote, I worked in the fields of animal and environmental protection for the last twenty years serving as Executive Director for the Fur-Bearer Defenders and in various leadership positions with the Rainforest Action Network and the Animal Protection Institute. I saw a need to bridge these two movements and focus on predator protection – with coyotes as the iconic species that can help foster this collaborative bridge building. My father also studied and wrote extensively about wild canid ethology so I was surrounded by coyotes, foxes, wolves, and dogs growing up and have always had a deep love and appreciation for all things canid (the cats in my life also remind me that I am a felid lover as well!).
Coyotes, wolves, and other native carnivores are often the targets of unrelenting persecution- from traps, snares, poisons and other cruel and indiscriminate devices. As both species expand their range and urban sprawl encroaches into wildlife habitat, human-carnivore interactions are on the rise. Communities are often ill equipped to deal with the presence of native carnivores and conflicts arise when uninformed people intentionally or unintentionally feed wildlife. Moreover, wildlife agencies and local community governments are often cash and staff strapped, so that human-wildlife conflict resolution and public outreach are not priorities. Far too often the solution to carnivore conflicts — whether in agricultural or urban areas — is lethal and indiscriminate killing. Traditional control practices include trapping, snaring, poisoning, aerial shooting, and denning (killing of pups in the den).
Why Coyotes? The coyote (Canis latrans) is the most persecuted native carnivore in North America. It’s estimated that a half a million coyotes are killed every year in the U.S —one per minute—by federal, state and local governments and by private individuals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program kills approximately 90,000 coyotes each year. Most of this killing is carried out in the name of “livestock protection” as a taxpayer subsidy for private sheep and cattle ranchers. Despite scientific evidence suggesting that this approach is misguided and ultimately ineffective, the emphasis on lethal coyote control persists. Coyotes are also killed for their fur, for “sport,” and in “body-count” contests where prizes are awarded for killing the most and/or largest coyotes. Most states set no limit on the number of coyotes that may be killed, nor do they regulate the killing method.
2. What do people need to know about coyotes and the role they play in both urban and rural ecosystems?
While scientific research is bringing traditional coyote management into question, research is also revealing the ecological importance of coyotes. Studies conducted in the fragmented habitats of coastal southern California showed that the absence of coyotes and/or their removal allowed smaller predators such as foxes and feral cats to proliferate, leading to a sharp reduction in the number and diversity of native ground-nesting birds. Similar findings have found that coyote removal can negatively affect songbird and waterfowl diversity. Coyotes also help control Canada goose populations and white-tailed deer populations on the east coast. Hence, in areas where coyotes are the apex predator, their removal can precipitate an ecological chain reaction that leads to profound degradation of the health, integrity, and diversity of the ecosystem.
3. What does Project Coyote do and where?
As the only organization whose mission is to foster coexistence between people and coyotes and to advocate on behalf of America’s Song Dog and other native carnivores, Project Coyote fills a unique essential niche in the field of wildlife conservation. Since our founding in 2008, Project Coyote has become a leader in promoting compassionate conservation, providing both a centralized resource for science-based information and strategies and a voice for coyotes and other native carnivores in policy forums. We are a growing international community (U.S. and Canada) of wildlife biologists, ecologists, educators, and skilled professionals who seek to counter the myths and mistreatment of coyotes and wolves and to provide opportunities for collaboration, networking, and strategic policy change in how native carnivores are viewed and “managed.” We believe that coyotes have much to offer us, not only by keeping ecosystems healthy, but by providing inspiring examples of ingenuity, adaptability and resilience in an ever-changing world.
We also believe we need a new paradigm in the way we coexist with native carnivores and other wildlife— one that recognizes their important ecological role and their intrinsic worth as beings who share finite space and time on this planet Earth. Project Coyote aims to foster this new path,providing the tools and resources communities need to coexist with wild canids and advocating “compassionate conservation” in how we live with predators.
4. What are some of your programs and accomplishments as an organization to date?
Project Coyote works to empower individuals and citizens to promote active coexistence between people, coyotes, and other wildlife. We have over 20 volunteers nationwide who donate their time, skills, and expertise to Project Coyote. Our dynamic and highly skilled 11 member advisory board is active in wildlife conservation and several are internationally renowned speakers, writers, and film producers.
In regard to accomplishments, Project Coyote has accomplished a great deal since our founding in 2008. Working with our allies in Florida, we won a decisive victory after more than a year of campaigning to end coyote and fox penning when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously to ban the practice statewide. Penning involves sending packs of domestic dogs into a fenced-off enclosure to chase to exhaustion and often tear apart a captive coyote or fox.
Building on the success in Florida, Project Coyote turned its attention to Indiana where the state wildlife commission is currently considering whether to legalize coyote/fox penning (which involves sending packs of domestic dogs into a fenced-off enclosure to chase to exhaustion and often tear apart a captive coyote or fox- ostensibly to train hunting hounds to chase and kill coyotes and foxes in the wild). Project Coyote, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Animal Welfare Institute filed suit against the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its director Robert Carter Jr. over the Department’s decision to waive state permit requirements for a controversial Greene County coyote and fox penning facility.
This past year we also successfully saved many coyotes from a brutal death in strangulation neck snares when we convinced the city of Arcadia to stop a taxpayer-subsidized coyote-snaring program that was costing taxpayers close to $30,000 a year. In place of lethal control, Project Coyote and allies offered the city assistance in educating residents about how to coexist with coyotes including a Project Coyote co-sponsored free public forum that drew close to 200 attendees.
Through our Coexisting with Coyotes program, Project Coyote has assisted more than 50 municipalities, counties, agencies, and airports in helping to reduce conflicts between people and coyotes through consultations, presentations, and assistance in developing coyote coexistence plans, tools, and resources. In addition, we have provided over 85 presentations nationwide including organizing and leading several sessions at key wildlife conferences.
In partnership with a coalition of national wildlife conservation organizations, Project Coyote worked to reform the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program through policy and educational outreach efforts to members of Congress, the public, and the Obama Administration. Each year the WS program kills upwards of 4 million animals- including close to 120,000 native carnivores- with cruel methods including poisons, snares, leg hold traps, and aerial gunning. Taxpayers fund this slaughter to the tune of 120 million dollars annually. Project Coyote has helped to foster and promote an alternative non-lethal cost-share approach in place of Wildlife Services in our headquarters community of Marin County in Northern California that assists ranchers in implementing non-lethal methods of predator deterrents through a county cost share program.
5. What are some cool facts about Coyotes that people might find most interesting or surprising to learn?
- Coyotes love fruit! During some times of the year in some areas of the country, fruit can comprise a large portion of coyotes’ diet.
- The only part of North America without coyotes is the Arctic tundra.
- Coyotes are good swimmers.
- Coyotes often mate for life and are dedicated parents.
- Coyotes provide natural rodent control.
- In the United States one coyote is killed every minute.
- Coyote scat is often found in the middle of a trail as a sign to trespassers.
- The most common cause of death for urban coyotes is being hit by a car. Another major mortality for coyotes is secondary poisoning from preying on rodents that have consumed rodenticides.
- Mange is the most common disease related to coyote mortality.
- 50-70% of coyote pups do not survive their first year.
6. Are there any documentaries or other resources others might learn more about your work and programs and the plight of the Coyote?
We’ve created an array of educational tools and resources -many of which are free downloads on our website Resources page– including our new COYOTE NEWS fact sheet, our Coexisting with Coyotes brochure, our Coexisting with Coyotes educational bookmark, and our BE COYOTE AWARE sign that we are making available for free to communities nationwide. We’ve also recently created a YouTube page to which we’re continually adding new content.
We’ve worked with several film makers nationally internationally and feature a film produced by San Francisco based filmmaker Melissa Peabody called American Coyote ~ Still Wild at Heart — a wonderful documentary about coyotes in North America, with a focus on the San Francisco Bay area. For more information see the Films section of our website at ProjectCoyote.org and be sure to view the American Coyote Documentary trailer.
7. Where can others learn more about Project Coyote?
They can visit our website at ProjectCoyote.org and join our growing community and discussions on the Project Coyote Facebook page. They can also read about some of our campaigns in my blog on Huffington Post – and soon to be on the One Green Planet blog.
[tags]environment, conservation, wildlife, coyote, projectcoyote.org[/tags]