SULLIVAN'S ISLAND - There is no easy solution to the coyote problem here, an expert said, but there is a strategy to best manage the situation.
Even if the island were able to rid itself of all the predators, it wouldn't be long before more coyotes moved in from elsewhere, said Emily Cope, deputy director for the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Instead of widespread trapping or shooting, she suggested focusing on coyote complaints as they arise at specific locations.
"I think from the town's perspective, targeting only the problem areas will be more desirable," she said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Jerry Kaynard said that the DNR recommendation was a little ambiguous.
"I just don't understand what that means," he said. "Do we do nothing until we get a phone call? That didn't really give us a solution."
Town Council plans to hire a firm with expertise in handling such situations, he said.
Islander David Fortiere sought advice on the issue from the DNR, which responded in a Feb. 7 letter from Cope. She said DNR is not funded or equipped to provide direct assistance to the island.
Shooting coyotes would be problematic, she said.
"Sharpshooting with specialized weapons using night-vision equipment and suppressed firearms might be an option, but once again locations and safe shooting areas are going to be very limited," she said.
Some things could be done, such as thinning out dense undergrowth where coyotes are a problem.
"If the town were to target habitat modification to the areas frequently traveled by people, such as walkways or paths, it could cut down on the number of interactions between coyotes and people," Cope wrote.
Residents can practice coyote "hazing," which keeps the animals from getting too comfortable around humans. That means making loud noise, shouting or throwing something. Don't leave pet food outside because it attracts coyotes, she said.
Fortiere said he is not in favor of shooting or trapping coyotes. Trapped ones are killed because under law they cannot be relocated, he noted.
"I don't think that there is a whole lot that we can do," he said.
Fortiere said he would support the town taking aggressive action against coyotes if he became uncomfortable walking the path from his house to the beach.
"I would have to feel more threatened. Now, it's a nuisance," he said.
The DNR says the island government could leave the coyotes alone and see what happens.
"It's possible that coyotes may only cause sporadic issues from time-to-time with a relatively small group of animals inhabiting the island," Cope said.
As a first response, the town launched an educational effort. Information on coexisting with coyotes was included in water bills and posted on the Sullivan's website.
That approach changed in January when the Town Council Public Safety Committee voted to implement a program to reduce the number of coyotes.
Police Chief Danny Howard today will discuss establishment of a coyote management program at a meeting of the committee that begins at 6 p.m.
Reports of coyotes on the island have been growing since last summer. Missing cats and a dwindling rabbit and squirrel population have been blamed on the predators. Some have worried about whether coyotes pose a danger to small dogs and children.
A few residents have hired trappers to rid coyotes from their property.
The predators are in every county in the state even though hunters shoot about 30,000 of them annually, officials said.
Fatal attacks by coyotes are extremely rare, known to have occurred only twice in the past several decades. A 19-year-old was killed in Canada in 2009, and a 3-year-old died in a California coyote attack in 1981, DNR said.
In contrast, 129 fatal dog attacks occurred in the U.S. in the past four years, the agency said.
Howard has said his officers see coyotes just about every night. A coyote was seen stalking a cat. One set of cat remains has been found. Residents said they find coyote scat in their yards, he said.
Resident Stanford Joel Kirshtein posts coyote video on his Facebook page. The nighttime images are captured by a camera mounted on a fence.
A Twitter account that purports to speak for the coyotes thanked him for the exposure.
"I am one of the Sullivan's Island coyotes. I have been chosen as voice for our pack," says S I Coyote
@SI_Coyote. "Yes, your footage is excellent. We try to come by your place for family portraits monthly."