Wildlife abounds in county, often too close for comfort
ANCRAMDALE—We are not alone.
But we’ll save the story about space aliens and ghosts for another time.
Let’s talk wildlife.
Are there more coyotes, bear or deer than there used to be? Is anybody counting? Does it matter?
It might matter to that a small schnauzer named Otto, who lives on Route 82 between Ancramdale and Pine Plains. The dog had an unpleasant encounter with a coyote on Labor Day.
Otto’s owner, who asked not to be identified, told The Columbia Paper this week that she and her family had been hearing howling coyotes during the daytime before the attack and seeing them on the property. Early that morning seven coyotes were spotted in the field below the house.
At 4:30 that afternoon “a coyote was calling behind the vegetable garden” when Otto, an eight-year-old, 17-pound “watchdog” took off barking in response.
Otto’s humans were right behind him and tried to call him back “but he chased the coyote behind a fence surrounding the swimming pool.” The next thing they heard were Otto’s shrieks as the coyote, at least twice his size, turned and attacked him. The woman said she and her 10-year-old granddaughter were about 20-feet away screaming in fear and horror when the coyote “slowly walked away.” The woman said her granddaughter described the coyote as the size of a “very big German Shepherd.”
Otto survived the attack with deep puncture wounds to his rear end, seemingly bitten on the rump as he made his escape. Otto also lost a tooth in the scuffle.
The dog made an emergency visit to the Copake Veterinary Hospital, where his medical team came in on the holiday to tend to his wounds, which the owner said was a contributing factor in his recovery. Otto was up-to-date on his rabies shots, though the coyote appeared perfectly healthy, the woman said.
According to state Department of Conservation Wildlife Biologist Michael Clark, the coyote population is on an even keel.
Reports of attacks on domestic animals by coyotes received by the DEC are not uncommon and usually involve free range fowl—ducks or chickens, said Mr. Clark, noting that coyotes are “opportunistic feeders.” Keepers of chickens or ducks “have to bring them in at night. We live in rural America,” he said.
The DEC estimates wild animal populations by collecting data on how many are “harvested” each year.
Mr. Clark, a Kinderhook native and a wildlife biologist with the state for more than 13 years, said the white tail deer population “was up by not much, but slightly” from 2012 to 2013.
“Hunting is the main way we manage the white tail deer population,” he said. Consequently, the DEC issued more Deer Management Permits (DMP), which allow hunters to take antlerless deer during regular hunting seasons.
The reasoning is that if a hunter kills a buck, he or she is reducing the population by one, but if they take a doe they reduce the population by three next year—the doe and the two fawns (on average) the animal will give birth to in the spring.
Consequently, Mr. Clark said in 2012 the target number of DMP issued for Columbia County was 7,200 and in 2013 was 8,500.
Statewide 243,567 deer were taken in 2013, compared to 242,953 in 2012.
Access issues continue to be one of the biggest problems in deer management, said the wildlife biologist, noting the land on which property owners do not allow hunting becomes a refuge for animals during hunting season.
Based on harvest figures for black bears, that population must be on the rise, with just three taken in Columbia County, one each in Canaan, Ghent and New Lebanon in 2012 and 11 taken in Columbia County, 4 in Canaan, 2 in Chatham, 1 in Ghent, 2 in Hillsdale, and 1 each in New Lebanon and Stockport in 2013.
Wes Powell, the animal control officer for many towns in the county, told The Columbia Paper this week he would not be surprised to hear that the coyote population has increased due to the decline in people who trap them. But he said nature has its own way of controlling the fox and coyote populations through mange, a skin disease that can be fatal.
He also said that more and more houses are being built in wooded areas, where wildlife lives, leading to more human/animal encounters.
Since the attack on Otto, his owner said she has not heard the coyotes as close to the house. That may be due in part to the start of coyote hunting season.
Starting October 1 it became open season on the animal through March 29. The DEC stopped requiring tagging or the reporting of a coyote kill back in 2004.
Coyotes can be hunted at any hour of the day or night and there are no limits on how many are killed.
If that’s the case then how does the DEC know how many there are?
Mr. Clark said by email, “We can only estimate our harvest of coyotes based on our annual small game and trapper surveys. But, we can also gauge whether or not we think coyote populations are changing by the amount of complaints our offices receive, which has [been] fairly stable in the past few years.
Asked if there can be too many coyotes, Mr. Clark said the answer varies depending on whom you ask and what their interests are. You’ll get a different answer from deer hunters, sheep farmers and outdoor cat owners, not to mention the owners of Otto.
To contact Diane Valden email .