It could be only a matter of time before Martha’s Vineyard has a breeding coyote population. The public has reported coyote sightings up-Island. Wildlife experts differ, but some estimate there could be up to a dozen on the Island now.
While there are dangers associated with the wild animals, there are also some irrational and inflated fears that should be addressed before they are taken too seriously.
On the popular Facebook group Islanders Talk, and within the comment sections of The Martha’s Vineyard Times, there have been numerous residents calling for the culling of coyotes on the Island. Members of the public have visited our newsroom, asking that we encourage the eradication of the species.
The fear is that coyotes will attack domestic animals, and even children.
Before we laugh this off as a fringe group of Islanders, Martha’s Vineyard wouldn’t be the first community in Massachusetts to recently introduce such a drastic measure. The New York Times reports that the Nahant Select Board last year brought in “sharpshooters” to take out some of the town’s coyote population. At the time of the select board decision, officials estimated there were about a dozen coyotes on the small, North Shore peninsula. No human has ever been harmed by the coyotes in Nahant, The Times reports, but a dozen pets have gone missing over the past several years, and there were a small number of attacks on leashed dogs.
But there are objectors in Nahant, and residents would be right to object to the idea of eradicating coyotes here on Martha’s Vineyard.
Eliminating the coyote population on the Island presents several challenges, and we question whether it’s even possible. Coyotes are known to be incredibly resilient creatures that would likely find a way to survive. And is it humanity’s place to control nature?
Even if possible, it isn’t the right thing to do, not only morally, but for public health as well.
For one, a coyote population would help mitigate some nuisances, like the thriving skunk population. More importantly, coyotes could make the Island safer.
Take the white-tailed deer population, which is about quadruple what state wildlife officials consider to be normal. In the up-Island towns, deer can be dangerous for drivers. West Tisbury Police Chief Matt Mincone says that his department considers traffic accidents involving deer “routine.” He says there’s a related incident a couple of times a month, and it sometimes leads to drivers losing control of their vehicle. Mincone tells us that he personally has changed his own driving habits, knowing that a deer could run into the road at any moment.
Also consider that Martha’s Vineyard has high rates of tick-borne illnesses. Ticks thrive on the large deer population. Fewer deer would mean a lower tick population, and a reduction in tick-borne illnesses.
There is precedent for coyotes helping to reduce deer populations. On Naushon, trustees of the Island say that when coyotes made a comeback in the late 1980s, the deer population dropped significantly. The Naushon trustees estimates the population dropped from 650 individuals to a low of about 60. Those were mostly the sick and older deer. The population has since rebounded to more than 100 deer on the island today, but the impact of coyotes remains remarkable.
Also consider Cape Cod, where coyotes are simply a fact of life. Cape residents routinely see the animals. Residents living near wooded areas will occasionally hear a pack of coyotes howling at night, a truly wild sound. And the cat owners on the Cape keep their cats inside, or knowingly take the risk. It’s just the way it is.
Despite the larger coyote population on the Cape, there have been very few reported attacks on humans over the past several years. The scariest one was a nonfatal encounter in 2021, when a coyote bit a 3-year-old on the ankle at the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The attack occurred following weeks of warnings from park rangers at the National Seashore about people leaving food out. They say that coyotes got used to eating trash and food left out by visitors, and then became more and more comfortable around humans. Officials say that led to more aggressive behavior.
Dan Proulx, an animal control officer from Marblehead, gave a talk earlier this year on the Vineyard about safety. He recommends securing trash, and making sure food is not left out to attract animals. Pets should not roam about outside.
The overall sentiment is to not let coyotes get comfortable around humans. Keep them to the woods where they belong. Scare coyotes by banging pots and making loud noises.
Culling and eradicating coyotes is an extreme policy, and all other strategies should be exhausted first. However, it does come from a fear that we shouldn’t ignore. But instead of sharpshooters, we recommend practicing common-sense behavior.