Ore. police department told to shoot coyotes

Ore. police department told to shoot coyotes »Play Video

SHERWOOD, Ore. (AP) - Coyotes in Sherwood aren't going to be asked to leave town. After a high school student said two followed him home, the police got shoot-to-kill orders.

"We don't want people to panic, to think that coyotes are on the rampage," Sherwood Sgt. Dwight Onchi said. "We just want them to know that if you see one, tell us, and we'll do our best to take care of it safely and humanely."

Onchi said police will make sure of their backdrop before shooting, as they would while using any firearm in the line of duty. He said officers would use high-powered AR-15 rifles they carry in their patrol cars.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, called the order "draconian."

Onchi said the policy was developed after two small dogs and 13 cats disappeared from backyards during the past six months, and coyote sightings have soared.

The last straw was Friday night, when two coyotes who seemed unafraid followed a 15-year-old sophomore home.

"Maybe because he ran, he triggered a chase response by wild animals," Onchi said. "He says one coyote got so close that he felt threatened and he kicked at it. That coyote left him alone, but the other one kept following him."

Tami Wagner, assistant district wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said such behavior is rare, but the coyotes could have been caring for a late-season litter and felt threatened.

Coyotes are known for being able to adapt to humans, taking advantage of unsecured pet food, compost bins and garbage cans.

According to the Audubon Society of Portland, coyotes weren't often reported in the Portland area until the 1980s, but sightings have increased every year since.

The group says most contacts present a minimal risk to people, and most reports of nips, bites or scratches were a result of humans feeding the animals.

Sallinger said humans can't eradicate coyotes.

"Even if you kill some coyotes, they will fill back in very quickly," Sallinger said. And killing, he said, can trigger "compensatory breeding rates" that result in larger litters.

"The best way is to teach pet owners to be more responsible," he said.

In 1997, Lake Oswego considered an eradication program but after long debate chose coexistence. Residents are now counseled to secure their garbage, compost bins, pets and pet food, as well as refraining from feeding wild animals.

In neighboring West Linn, an agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control killed nine coyotes in 1996 before city officials decided to adopt a less aggressive policy. Today, a community services officer answers wildlife complaints.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.