Coyote conflicts with humans ‘extremely rare,’ experts tell Belleair Bluffs officials

Mayor Chris Arbutine

BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Concerns about the dangers posed by coyotes in urban environments have likely been overblown. That was the message from wildlife experts who spoke at a presentation on coyotes at the Dec. 16 City Commission meeting.

Mayor Chris Arbutine said he wanted to hear expert opinion on the topic to follow up on discussions at last month’s commission meeting. He said an apparent growing presence of coyotes in the local area has created “a very emotional issue.”

“Is there a coyote problem? We hear stories of pets disappearing,” said Arbutine. “My concern is, people think it’s not a problem, until someone’s poodle or Chihuahua is attacked, and then everyone says ‘Why aren’t you doing something about it?’”

Angeline Scotten, a biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said coyotes migrated to Florida from western states and are present in every county in the state.

They are “one of the most intelligent and adaptable wildlife species that’s living in Florida today,” Scotten said. “They do well in environments where they are being pressured.”

Their success in urban settings is all related to food, she said. More food means more coyotes. They thrive where there is a high resource of food from humans, “including garbage, bird feed, pet food, or pets themselves.”

Scotten said her office gets more phone calls about coyotes from Pinellas County than any other county in the state, perhaps because it is the most densely populated county. Many people think that coyotes have been forced out of rural habitats, she said, but actually “coyotes are choosing to live around people because there’s more food for them around people.”

Despite the concerns about coyotes, and reports of packs of coyotes being sighted, instances of people being bitten by coyotes “are extremely rare,” Scotten said.

Doug Brightwell, director of Pinellas County Animal Services, said he had seen no instances of humans interacting with coyotes in the six years he had been in Pinellas County. By comparison, there is an average 2,000 to 2,200 dog and cat bites here each year, he said.

“Injuries from dogs and cats are far more prevalent than with coyotes,” Brightwell said.

As to pets being taken by coyotes, Scotten said she does not recall any cases of a leashed dog being taken in Pinellas County, and there are only a few in the state of Florida. She said pets should not be allowed to run free, and dogs should be leashed when taken outdoors.

Scotten said the best solution to deal with coyotes is an education campaign for residents. For example, she said, “We encourage people not to feed pets outside at all. We suggest keeping garbage secure in a garage or a shed.”

Few residents attended the meeting, but several spoke on the coyote issue.

Andrea Tipton said she runs about 5 a.m. and “I see a lot of coyotes.” She had also heard of coyotes taking turtle eggs from nests on the beach.

Nicola Cook said numerous people on the website NextDoor had reported having their cats go missing. “They were beloved pets,” she said, and “they were definitely taken by coyotes.”

“I fear for my own safety,” Cook said.

After hearing the coyote presentation, Arbutine said he feels better knowing there have not been a lot of attacks on people. But, he said, “while there may not be a problem, there is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Arbutine said, with the commission’s approval, he would reach out to the Conservation Commission, the county and surrounding communities to find out what they’re doing about coyotes. He also wants to follow up on programs being undertaken in other cities around the state.

“We want to deal with this the right way,” Arbutine said, “and hopefully prevent a problem in the future.”

Arbutine, who is a pet owner himself, said “pets are our family, and when one is missing, we get upset about it.”

New radar speed signs up

New radar speed signs have been put up on the Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge, Public Works supervisor Russ Schmader said. They were paid for by the county, and will be maintained by them, he said. The original signs were purchased by Belleair Bluffs.

Barkley, Shimkus reelected

Commissioners Joseph Barkley and Taylour Shimkus will have no opposition in their run for reelection, City Clerk Alexis Silcox announced. Both will begin new two-year terms next March.

Barkley is set to become chairman of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority next year, and said he needed to be reelected to the city commission to be eligible for the transit position.