In recent decades, a number of factors have contributed to an increased potential for conflict between people and coyotes (Canis latrans). Problematic interactions between people and coyotes have occurred in many highly developed areas across the United States. Over the last few years in New York State (NYS), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials noticed an increase in the number of coyote-related incident reports filed with the agency. Managing human-coyote interactions to reduce negative impacts is of growing interest among many wildlife managers and communities, but little scientific information about human-coyote interactions in suburban landscapes is available.
To improve understanding of the extent and nature of public experience with coyotes, we studied the human-coyote interface in suburban Westchester County, New York. The investigation has both a human dimensions (HD) and ecological inquiry and will provide
baseline data about issues related to coyote presence in suburban communities in NYS. The HD project evaluates people’s attitudes about coyotes and behaviors related to coyotes. In 2006, we conducted informant interviews to examine topics for a survey of residents within the study area. This report details the interview process, and includes the presentation of initial insights garnered from this preliminary work.
Four towns within Westchester County, New York were identified for the study area. Interviewees were identified using an informant-based, or snowball, sampling approach. Interviews were semi-structured, in-depth, and digitally recorded. Analysis included coding
responses to all questions from the interview guide and evaluating responses for common themes.
The vast majority of interviewees were aware of coyotes from first-hand experience. Informants believed that community members, however, had little knowledge about coyotes and were generally unaware of coyote presence in Westchester. This lack of awareness and/or understanding was attributed particularly to newer residents from urban areas. Fear and concern for children or pets were most often cited as the coyote-related topics discussed in the community. Few informants believed that coyotes were an issue for the community, and most asserted that problematic interactions were very rare. It was suggested that when residents did have a problem, they were most likely to turn to local authorities such as the police. Over the last 1-5 years, many interviewees noted an increase in awareness of interactions but expressed uncertainty as to whether it was an increase in the number of interactions or simply due to more media coverage of the events. Informants were generally accepting of coyote presence in suburban areas, but many believed the general public did not share this view. Both positive and negative impacts associated with coyote presence in suburban areas were identified. Most interviewees believed an encounter with a coyote was unlikely for the average Westchester resident and that coyotes generally avoided people.
It was especially noteworthy that informants believed coyotes were not an issue within the Westchester community. Despite the fact that most informants had first-hand experience with coyotes and had perceived an increase in interactions, they nevertheless asserted the belief that actual human-coyote encounters were infrequent in Westchester. This may be understood in the context of Westchester’s significant exurban population. Perhaps it is this particular group that lacks awareness and knowledge of coyotes. Indeed, many informants specifically referenced this subpopulation when describing circumstances in the community. It will be important for wildlife managers to be aware of this group’s potential orientation when considering community response to coyotes if interactions increase.
Given the disparity between the DEC’s and informants’ initial assessment of the coyote situation within Westchester County, an inquiry is particularly relevant at this time. The themes that emerged from the analysis of interviews will be considered as a questionnaire is developed for Westchester residents. As informants indicated the belief that much of the existing concern about coyotes comes from exurbanites, it will be especially useful to include measures that examine location of childhood residence, tenure in Westchester, and awareness and attitudes about coyotes.