BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Mayor Chris Arbutine is tired of hearing that nothing can be done about coyotes in the area.
After hearing a report from his brother that he saw a pack of what he thought were 10 to 12 coyotes off Mehlenbacher Road, the mayor started making inquiries about what services are available.
“I’m at a point where enough is enough with the coyotes,” Arbutine said at the City Commission’s Nov. 18 meeting. “I want traps out there. I want wildlife removal people. If they procreate, we will get more traps.”
He is concerned that even he will be at risk from an attack by a pack of coyotes when he walks his small dog.
“If you hear about a pack of 10 to 12 coyotes, to me there is a problem,” he said.
Arbutine asked the commission to give approval for city officials to look into the logistics of trapping coyotes and determining if there are any unintended consequences involved. He wants to find out how the coyotes can be trapped in a safe way using professional services.
“This is a real issue. I want to put a handle on it. I want to do something about it. I don’t want to hear we can’t do it,” Arbutine said.
City Attorney Tom Trask said trapping coyotes is allowed under state law, but added Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission paperwork says that it is unlikely that coyotes hunt in packs; they usually hunt alone.
“There has to be something going on for them to hunt in that group,” he said.
Arbutine said city officials have been hearing stories for years now of cats and other pets being attacked by coyotes.
City Administrator Debra Sullivan said the coyotes will recognize that they are being threatened or possibly exterminated and procreate more rapidly.
She also said that people need to be trained. They have to follow leash laws and keep their garbage covered.
“If they (cats) are in the house, they are not being eaten by coyotes. So it’s a two-way street,” she said.
Wildlife agencies say removing coyotes is an ineffective method to control populations. The animals compensate by increasing litter size and new coyotes move into areas where others have been removed.
An FWC biologist on Nov. 12 discussed coyotes at a forum in Indian Rocks Beach that was attended by about 100 residents. The city had received complaints earlier this summer about the predators.
Commissioner Joseph Barkley said the key is for homeowners not to make their residences a hospitable environment. That means homeowners should keep coyotes away from food supplies and make sure they don’t leave small animals out at night.
“The main thing is really no open trash cans and so on. They will move on if there is no food available,” Barkley said.
Commissioners made comments indicating other local governments should be addressing the problem, too.
“Let’s tell everybody else they should be on it, too, because, you know what, there’s always going to be trash cans out there,” Arbutine said.
Commissioner Jack Nazario agreed Belleair Bluffs has a problem, and that it’s in the best interest of the city to do something about it. He made the motion to ask city officials to start the process of addressing the problem.
Commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of the motion with Barkley casting the dissenting vote. Commissioner Taylour Shimkus was absent.
Sullivan said the city will have more information in December from Trask regarding whether the trapping program is feasible, what the legal ramifications of such a program are and if it would bring more coyotes into the area.
In other matters, city commissioners issued a proclamation honoring former Commissioner Wallace Witham, a Belleair Bluffs resident for 37 years.
He served on the commission from 1984-1994 and was also on the Board of Adjustment and the City Charter and Ordinance Review Committee.
He died in 2018 and provided a donation of $500 to the city that will be used to beautify the city park.
“He was one of the people that rose up to the challenge of always being there for the city, for the residents. He was always there to help guide the commission,” Arbutine said.
When she was elected, Witham told Commissioner Suzy Sofer that she is in a position that she is going to be held accountable for, Sofer said.
About a year after she had been on the commission, she encountered Witham at a local business.
Witham told Sofer she was doing a good job, she said.
“Those words meant more to me than when my parents said that I was doing a good job,” she said. “I never forget him telling me that, and I want to always live up to my expectations in this position because of that.”