To kill or not to kill, that is the question.
Ever since the village of Riverside instituted a coyote policy in early 2013, reported sightings have skyrocketed. As of Nov. 21, Riverside residents had called in 361 coyote sightings to police, a majority of them in and around the Gatesby/Uvedale circle area in north central Riverside.
But during the late summer months, police also began getting numerous reports of what appeared to be sickly coyotes, who acted erratically and appeared to have lost large areas of fur and displayed open sores — symptoms of condition called sarcoptic mange.
While humans are immune to the disease, pets are not and it’s considered highly contagious.
In at least one instance, according to an email from Police Chief Thomas Weitzel to a private citizen obtained by the Landmark, a Riverside resident hired a professional trapper. In the email dated Oct. 2, the trapper reportedly captured the sickest of three mangy coyotes observed by that resident.
In short, the mangy coyotes are making Riverside residents nervous.
Since being implemented earlier this year, the village’s coyote policy instructs residents to “haze” the animals — essentially to scare them away and make sure they know they aren’t welcome.
And while the coyotes do typically run away when confronted by a human, the ill ones react more unpredictably and their habits are not typical of healthy coyotes.
Weitzel on Nov. 21 recommended that the village board hire a licensed trapper to remove the sick coyotes from the village. But several trustees are uncomfortable with the plan, which would entail the trapper shooting the stricken coyotes.
The village board will take up the matter again at its next meeting on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road.
“I’d like the board to authorize the police department to use a gentleman recommended by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to dispatch coyotes that are sick,” said Weitzel.
The gentleman in question is Rob Erickson, who owns a company called On Target Animal Damage Control in Cortland, which is near DeKalb. According to Weitzel, the most efficient way to rid the village of the sick coyotes is to allow Erickson to shoot them with a low-velocity rifle round. The cost to the village would be about $1,000 per coyote killed.
Setting traps for the coyotes is a much less reliable method for removing the coyotes, said Weitzel, who referred to Riverside’s attempt to trap coyotes back in 2008. A month-long effort to trap coyotes seen wandering around the Big Ball Park cost about $1,500 and failed to capture a single animal.
The trapping method is also expensive. According to Weitzel, Erickson charges $3,500 to set up the traps and then charges $250 for every coyote trapped. In addition, the village must get a state permit to trap the coyotes.
Erickson told the Landmark last week that he’s not sure what solution would be best for Riverside at this time, since he lacks the village’s data. But he said he’s certain he could devise a solution if the village hired his services.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t handle the problem without shooting,” said Erickson, who said he “wrote the book on urban coyote control.”
Erickson said he has developed special ammunition that is safe to use in urban areas. He also said his trapping methods are sophisticated and are tailored to trapping the target animals, not random stray animals in the area.
“The technology is there to do it in a manner that’s extremely successful,” Erickson said.
Erickson also scoffs at hazing as a strategy for eliminating coyotes from the scene, pointing to an incident in Denver in October where a man was attacked by three coyotes.
“It’s stupid; it doesn’t work,” Erickson said of hazing. “Denver is the poster child for hazing programs.”
Trustee Michael Foley was the lone trustee on Nov. 21 who expressed unreserved support for Weitzel’s recommendation. Foley said he has first-hand experience with a mangy coyote, which appeared in his backyard one day and stood there between his daughter and the back door to the house. That animal, Foley said, did not respond to attempts to scare it away.
“I think those animals should be removed,” said Foley. “I think we should look into protecting residents and their pets from something that’s contagious. It’s a health issue.”
But other trustees weren’t so sure and wanted more information about how, exactly, Erickson goes about removing the animals.
“I have a real problem with discharging a firearm in town,” said Trustee Patricia Collins.
That sentiment was echoed by trustees Joseph Ballerine and Doug Pollock.
“I understand the problem, but I’m hesitant for the village to endorse shooting firearms in the village when it’s not a life-threatening event,” Pollock said.
Weitzel said the village might also consider raising its fine for residents who feed wildlife. While Riverside does have an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of wildlife, the fine is $35 for a first offense.
Coyotes are drawn by easy access to food. Unless the food sources go away, the problem will continue, said Weitzel.
“Unless we get hold of that, no matter what we do, they’ll keep coming back if they’re being fed,” Weitzel said.
Because two trustees, Jean Sussman and Ellen Hamilton, were absent from the Nov. 21 meeting, Village President Ben Sells suggested renewing the discussion on Dec. 5. By that time the village may also be able to get more input from residents and more information on removal methods, Sells said.