A local law on the books has prevented Middletown from hiring a professional hunter to target coyotes, but the Town Council on Monday night took a step toward removing that obstacle at the request of the police chief.
Once the amendment is finalized, the town may bring on a hired hunter to begin euthanizing coyotes as early as April 5, town officials said.
The measure is part of a concerted effort among local law enforcement and wildlife biologists to target the most problematic coyotes in four areas of town where they've been deemed a public threat, according to Middletown Police Chief Anthony Pesare.
In an unusually long four-hour session on Monday night with 50 docket items, the Town Council received Pesare's recommendation to amend the Town Code regarding the hunting of wild animals and birds. Under the change, a hired hunter could, at the discretion of the , shoot the coyotes using a rifle instead of a shotgun. The rifle calibre would have to be no higher than .229 and the hunter would be restricted to the season between April 1 and Sept. 30, according to the proposed amendment.
Pesare's remarks in addressing the council can be viewed in the attached video.
In Rhode Island, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) allows coyotes to be hunted year-round, in accordance with prevailing hunting laws, permits and requirements. Currently, Middletown's local ordinance only permits such hunting with a shotgun and that type of weapon is ineffective in hunting coyotes, Pesare informed the council.
The proposed change would not issue a blanket order for all hunters, but would leave it to the discretion of the Middletown police chief or his deputy to issue the special permit needed to use the rifle instead of the shotgun, Pesare noted.
"I have to designate that specific person for that specific use," he said.
All other hunting rules and regulations would remain unchanged, he said, emphasizing, for example, that weapons cannot be discharged in populated areas.
Two town residents also spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance change, which will undergo a Second Reading and a final council vote at the next Town Council meeting on April 4.
“I believe we are on the cusp of attacks on humans,” said resident Steve Fagan, who shared photos of coyotes climbing 10-foot barbed wire fences and cited a UC Davis study on coyote problems in suburban areas. He worried that the recent nighttime and early morning attacks on pets might escalate to attacks on children playing outside in daylight. He concluded his remarks, saying, “We need an immediate response as well as a long term approach.”
After the meeting, Chief Pesare said that who's leading to Narragansett Bay Coyote Study with GPS-enabled tracking collars, has recommended a particular hunter with whom she's worked before and together they will identify the problem coyotes in four problem areas on Prospect Avenue, Kempenaar Valley, Reservoir Road and the area of View Avenue and Compton View Drive.
Mitchell, who has been studying and tracking the Aquidneck Island coyotes, will also assist the professional hunter to ensure that no pups, no nursing female coyotes and no collared coyotes are harmed, Pesare said.
All neighbors and landowners will also be notified in advance of any hunting, Pesare said.
As the coyote sightings, attacks on pets and residents’ complaints have increased throughout Aquidneck Island, especially in Middletown, local and state officials have begun meeting in recent months to address coyote management practices. Earlier this month, local police chiefs and wildlife experts came to a consensus to begin reducing the population on Aquidneck Island, specifically targeting the problematic coyotes that live in the more densely populated areas.
Part of that reduction plan calls for a short-term approach — culling the problem coyotes that pose a greater threat to humans immediately in the more residential areas through humane traps and euthanizing the wild animals. Meanwhile, the long-term component involves passive coyote management practices that focus on educating the public, enforcing existing laws that prohibit wildlife feeding, possibly increasing fines for feeding wildlife, and the rapid removal of dead farm animals, livestock and wild animal carcasses that also provide coyotes with a food source.
The most recent coyote attack reported occurred at a White Terrace residence in the pre-dawn hour on March 14, when a coyote attacked a family dog, a female black pug, in the rear yard. According to police reports, a coyote jumped a three-foot high fence and bit the dog on its back and under its neck. The owner was able to scare the coyote away with a flashlight before more serious injury resulted, according to police reports.
Mitchell attributes the more aggressive behaviors and the overall surge in the local coyote population to people feeding them, which results in more offspring in each litter and younger coyotes growing up to no longer fear humans.
To learn more
- The Town of Middletown website offers a downloadable coyote management brochure with recommendations for the public. A copy is also available to view or print at upper right in the image gallery.
- On March 24, local wildlife expert Dr. Numi Mitchell will give a presentation about co-existing with the coyotes at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown. The event is open to the public.
Look for more coverage from Monday night's Town Council meeting here on Patch Tuesday morning.