Ask Zimo: Be aware of coyotes, especially during breeding season

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJanuary 23, 2014 

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A coyote roams by Zimo's house this winter on a well used trail.

PETE ZIMOWSKY

Q: I had a very odd interaction during the holiday break and thought I would throw it your way for some insight.

I was walking my dogs east of Table Rock in the Boise Foothills and the dogs were running off leash. I looked over to the east and saw three coyotes about 40 yards away.

What I took to be the male was kind of strutting and posturing while the other two sat watching us. Before I could grab one of my dogs, she charged one of the smaller coyotes and hit it, rolling the coyote in the snow.

My dog didn't attack the coyote or bite it, just body slammed it, all while I continued to yell at her to come back.

The male coyote started in my dog's direction at which point my other dog broke away at a gallop. As this changed the dynamics, all three coyotes broke for the hills with my two idiots in hot pursuit and me stumbling through the scrub after them.

Within a minute, the dogs had both returned, unharmed, but newly conditioned to think chasing coyotes is great fun.

A couple days later, I heard that a neighbor's Yorkie was snatched off the street by a coyote in broad daylight. It was killed, according to the report I got.

I was trying to find more information on coyotes in the urban interface, and it seems coyotes playing with dogs is not all that uncommon, but it's not something I am comfortable with.

Is it just them becoming too comfortable with humans?

Should we all be concerned about a new level of aggressiveness with the coyotes?

MICHAEL DUFFY, via email

A: Good questions. I live near that area and coyotes are very common. I've got photos of them on my remote wildlife camera both at night and during the middle of the day.

Actually, the behavior you experienced is not uncommon for coyotes, according to Michelle Commons Kemner, regional wildlife biologist with Idaho Fish and Game.

"Coyotes do well in urban areas and are known to become quite bold, even jumping fences to take small dogs, and actively hunt cats and squirrels," she said. The more bold coyotes are near humans, the more habituated they are to the presence of humans, she said.

Fish and Game recommends not making your yard inviting for coyotes. Keep all dog and cat food inside the house, secure garbage and even clean up under fruit trees and around vegetable gardens to discourage coyotes from coming around the house.

Bird seed can also attract coyotes to your yard.

Another problem is that January and February is the breeding season for coyotes, and they may be more aggressive toward domestic dogs if the dogs are in the coyotes' territory. That can be the case even if a dog is on a leash, Commons Kemner said.

Here are other tips from Fish and Game:

• Coyotes are typically nocturnal, so keep your pets inside at night.

• Since coyotes may also hunt and defend their territories during the day, stay outside with your pet when you let it out.

• When jogging or walking in the Foothills, it's best to keep your dogs on a leash. If coyotes approach, keep your dogs under control, act big by yelling and waving your arms, and start backing away. Show them you know it's their territory and you plan to leave.

Fish and Game has not had reports of overly aggressive coyotes in the area. If the state wildlife agency gets a report of aggressive coyotes, it's referred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.

If both incidents described by the reader occurred in the same neighborhood, there is something more than just unusual boldness going on, Commons Kemner said.

She speculated that someone is actively feeding the coyotes, they have a den very close by and/or they have been successful hunting in that area in the past without negative interference from humans.

PLANNING FOR BACKPACKING

Q: My friends and I are planning a backpacking trip to Ship Island Lake, and we have a few questions for you.

First, we would like to go early enough in the year to avoid any potential smoke from the fire season, but we don't want to go so early as to encounter too much snow or impassable stream crossings.

How early would you recommend going? Second, how is the road to Crags Campground?

Finally, since we have not been backpacking in the Frank Church Wilderness before, is there anything we should know about the area?

SCOTT C., via email

A: Your odds of predicting when to get into the Bighorn Crags are about as good as those of winning in Las Vegas.

Although it's a skimpy snow winter, so far, anything can happen.

It just takes one good wet, spring snowstorm to pack the snow in that country and keep the roads and passes inaccessible until mid- to-late July.

Because you've got roughly 60 miles of backcountry roads going from Challis to Crags Campground, there are a lot of variables on how long the snow will stay in the shady areas, on the switchbacks, on the summits and in the basins through which you have to travel.

The U.S. Forest Service typically doesn't recommend trying to get into the area until mid-July or later. August is the best month.

That's not the case with other wilderness areas where the trailheads are only a mile or two from major highways.

I expect access will be earlier in the Sawtooth Wilderness off Idaho 75 and the Frank Church off Idaho 21 where trailheads are easier to get to.

Another thing to think about the Crags, the area is so popular among hikers and horse people, and the season is so short, that it can seem very crowded for a wilderness area in the height of the season. The busy season is basically six to eight weeks.

Now about planning. If you get in there right after the snow is gone, you'll have to deal with swarms of mosquitoes. If you go late in the summer, you're right, you'll have to possibly deal with smoke from fires. The basins up there can hold the smoke.

The best thing to do is not try to out guess the snowpack and go in during the normal backpacking season of mid-July through August.

And, also beware of the late-season trips. Believe it or not, sometimes the area, which ranges from 8,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation, becomes inaccessible because of a September snowstorm.

Crazy, huh?

If you are worried about smoky conditions, check with the Salmon-Challis National Forest next summer.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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