Wily coyotes put strain on animal control budget

County has trapped twice as many so far in ’11 as ’10

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

Locally, coyotes haven’t taken a bite out of a person.

But they are eating up a bigger share of the county’s animal control budget.

During a Nov. 9 work session with county commissioners, Animal Control Manager Paul Scarpelli mentioned that twice the number of coyotes have been trapped in urban areas so far this year, up to 16 from eight in 2010.

In 2009, only three were trapped.

Pet licensing

• Clark County relies on animal licensing fees to pay for a range of animal-related issues, including trapping coyotes. Approximately 19,000 dogs and 6,000 cats are licensed in the county. Based on national statistics on pet ownership, that means fewer than 20 percent of dogs and 5 percent of cats are licensed.

• There’s no charge to license assistance dogs, and residents ages 65 and older receive a 50 percent senior discount for one spayed or neutered cat and one spayed or neutered dog. Otherwise, annual licenses for fertile dogs are $40; fertile cats are $20. Spayed or neutered dogs are $16; fixed cats are $10.

• For more information: Call 360-397-2488 or visit http://www.clark.wa.gov/pets/.

Scarpelli said last week that there are three coyote hot spots and he expects to have to trap additional animals before the year ends. He would like to remind residents to take basic steps to help manage the coyote population.

The hot spots are near Cougar Creek in west Hazel Dell, north of Washington State University Vancouver in Salmon Creek and west of Interstate 205 along the Bonneville Power Administration lines in Burton, near Burnt Bridge Creek.

Clark County Animal Control, which has a two-year budget of $1.5 million, responds to calls in unincorporated Clark County including Hazel Dell, Salmon Creek and Felida. The county’s four animal control officers also provide service in Yacolt and within Vancouver city limits; other cities do their own animal control.

Licensing fees alone don’t cover the cost of animal control, so the county has to dip into its general fund to bridge the gap. If all pet owners actually licensed their pets, the general fund would not have to be tapped.

While county animal control officers respond to calls involving dogs, livestock and dead cats — there are so many stray cats that people are asked to deliver the cats themselves to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington — they don’t tend to all four-legged creatures.

When a black bear was captured in a tree near Clark College in central Vancouver in June, for example, officers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife were called in to shoot the bear with a tranquilizer and take it to a “release point” in the wild.

With coyotes, Scarpelli said the county contracts with trappers who have special training and are licensed by APHIS, which stands for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Trappers earn approximately $37 an hour. They don’t charge for the total time it takes to capture a coyote, Scarpelli said, but bill for the time spent setting a trap, checking on it and then capturing the animal.

The county spent $1,847 on trapping coyotes in 2009, $7,580 in 2010 and will likely exceed its $8,000 contract with the USDA this year. Scarpelli has budgeted $8,800 for 2012.

Coyotes are killed, not released, Scarpelli said.

Scarpelli, who did not set out to be the county’s animal control manager (he’s the finance manager for the community development department who inherited animal control after a round of job cuts), said he’s not sure why more coyotes are around urban areas just this year. A mild winter? More feral cats to snack on?

He does know that it’s unlikely a coyote would attack a person, but he still wants residents to be aware of the risk.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, “coyotes are curious but timid animals and will generally run away if challenged.”

The state’s advice: “If a coyote ever approaches too closely, pick up small children immediately and act aggressively toward the animal. Wave your arms, throw stones, and shout at the coyote. If necessary, make yourself appear larger by standing up (if sitting) or stepping up onto a rock, stump, or stair. The idea is to convince the coyote that you are not prey, but a potential danger.”

Scarpelli’s advice: Keep all potential food sources, such as garbage and composting piles, secure. Keep pets indoors, especially at night, and don’t leave pet food outside or feed feral cats. Even spilled birdseed can attract coyotes, he said.

Since trapping coyotes does come with the expense of hiring trappers, all requests for traps have to be approved by Scarpelli.

He said he has received a few calls from one woman about a coyote who shows up near Eisenhower Elementary School, 9201 N.W. Ninth Ave. in west Hazel Dell. The school, just south of Columbia River High School, is west of Cougar Creek.

He said parents should teach children that if they see a coyote they should yell a phrase, such as, “Go away coyote!” instead of just screaming so adults will know what’s going on.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; email to stephanie.rice@columbian.com.