Coyote crackdown Sullivan's Island weighs trapping, shooting predators

Coyotes are thought to be living in the maritime forest on Sullivan's Island. This boardwalk to the beach cuts through the forest near Station 26.

- Getting rid of coyotes instead of teaching people how to live with them will be the new town approach to its growing predator problem.

The Town Council Public Safety Committee on Friday voted in favor of research, funding and implementation of a program to achieve that goal.

"Maybe we hire a trapper," said Councilman Chauncey Clark, committee chairman.

Whatever happens will be done quickly, effectively and thoroughly, Clark said.

"My concern is public safety," he said. "I think we need to get an action plan."

Clark noted that coyote attacks on humans are rare, but there has been talk on the island of the risk to small dogs and cats. Some have worried about children, too.

Police Chief Danny Howard said his officers see coyotes just about every night. Five missing cats have been reported and 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.

Howard said that he first received calls about coyotes about 18 months ago. People now contact police daily about the predators, he said.

Until now, the town effort has focused on getting residents attuned to co-existing with coyotes. Extensive information on the predators' behavior and how to be safe around them is posted on the town website and included in water bills.

John Newland, president of Critter Control, said the town will never get rid of coyotes, but it can reduce the population so people do not feel threatened. He suggested that council authorize a coyote-trapping program.

"I've seen coyotes running across Fort Moultrie," he said.

Councilwoman Mary Jane Watson expressed concern about pets or children getting caught in a coyote trap. That risk is minimized by putting traps on trails the animals use, Newland said.

Three residents have hired Newland to trap coyotes, he said.

Caught coyotes are euthanized because state law prohibits their relocation, officials said.

The problem is not unique to Sullivan's. Coyotes have been captured in North Charleston and Mount Pleasant and on Kiawah and Seabrook islands, Newland said.

Coyotes are in every county in the state, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Island resident Jonathan Anderegg suggested shooting coyotes using quieter firearms, such as a high-velocity CO2 pellet gun.

"Trapping ain't it," he said.

Town law prohibits discharging firearms.

Anderegg said one of his cats is missing. Another was euthanized because of puncture wounds, he said.

When coyotes acclimate to an area, their wariness of humans lessens, he said.

"The fear factor goes away, and then you've got a problem," he said.

Coyotes are typically seen at night on the island, officials said.

Resident Bill Craver said he worried about a coyote attack on humans.

"It's not if. It's when," he said.

He has seen coyotes trotting down the street.

"I think you are faced with some real serious issues. Somebody's going to get really hurt," he said.

He advocated cutting back the island's maritime forest.

"Get rid of the habitat," he said.

The town could be liable if someone gets hurt by a coyote, he said.

Councilman Pat O'Neill and Clark said they had seen a coyote in their yards.

"It's clearly a situation that is growing. We have an obligation to take reasonable action," O'Neill said.

He wondered if culled coyotes would be replaced by others moving onto the island. Watson said coyotes average nine to 12 pups in a yearly litter.

Coyote management will be discussed at a Council workshop that begins at 6 p.m. Monday. The Public Safety Committee recommendation will be considered by the full council at its regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 21, Clark said.