‘Healthy population’ of coyotes live locally

Published 6:41 am Monday, December 7, 2015

By Sean C.W. Korsgaard

Special to The K-V Dispatch

Deer season may now be underway in Virginia, but it’s already open season on coyotes across the state.

Due to their classification as a nuisance species, coyotes can be hunted, trapped or taken at any time of the year, and there are no bag limits.

Statewide, the coyote population continues to grow in spite of this. Locally, as Lee Walker, outreach director for the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries points out, a fair number of coyotes call the area home.

“You do have a healthy population in what we call the South Piedmont area,” said Walker. “That’s nothing to be alarmed about, though — coyotes are nocturnal, rarely interact with humans and are very shy.”

While Walker does urge some safety measures be taken, most are the same common-sense precautions one always takes around wild animals, such as securing your trash and not leaving pets outside.

“Most times [when] coyotes approach people it’s typically as a result of them taking advantage of a food source,” said Walker. “They have no natural predators here in the state, aside from hunters, trappers and cars.” Coyotes are not a native species to Virginia, and were only first sited in the very western parts of the state beginning in the 1950s, and from there migrated eastward.

Due to a lack of natural predators in the area, coyotes quickly spread throughout the state over the following decades, and are now found in every county in Virginia, including the barrier islands of the coast. Coyotes, once restricted to the Western parts of the U.S. and Mexico, have spread from Panama to Alaska. “Coyotes are very resilient, very adaptable, and can live in an urban or rural setting,” said Walker. “Not too long ago, they actually found a few living in Central Park in New York City.”

That adaptability is exactly what makes the hunting measures ineffective, though, according to Mike Fies, a wildlife research biologist with the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries.

According to Fies, there are no reliable population estimates for coyotes in Virginia, with conservative estimates putting their numbers at around 50,000.