There are few people at Fort Irwin who have not seen a coyote first hand, said Liana M. Aker, lead wildlife biologist for Fort Irwin's Directorate of Public Works. These iconic symbols of the National Training Center are admired by many for their ingenuity and craftiness, yet endlessly frustrate others for these same qualities.
The coyote, once abundant in the Northwest, has adapted readily to changes in their habitat caused by human occupation over the past two hundred years, said Aker. They have trotted steadily across the country to occupy nearly every state of the Union.
Unfortunately, coyote-human interactions are becoming more common, as human populations take over their natural habitats. Coyotes have become habituated to humans and have lost their fear of people, risking lives of the coyote as well as the safety of humans and their pets.
"Feeding wildlife is a violation of California state law and Army regulations," said Aker, who has a few recommendations on how you can help keep coyotes and humans out of harm's way.
"First, don't ever feed coyotes," Aker said. "People feeling sorry for and feeding them is probably our biggest problem here. Barracks and neighborhoods become feeding grounds for coyotes that get handouts and find garbage to eat. They lose their natural fear of people. The longer they stick around, the greater is the probability that they will get sick."
"Some of the coyotes you see around the garrison area are sickly with sparse, dingy hair coats and, in the worst cases, open sores," Aker said. "That's not natural. Coyotes habituated to humans and human food eventually will sicken and then succumb to mange."
Aker explained that mange is caused by a microscopic, parasitic mite that can develop into severe illness in animals with compromised immune systems as a result of a prolonged diet of garbage and human food.
"These severe mange conditions are almost certainly a result of habituated 'garrison coyotes' that have become so dependent on handouts and garbage that they live full time here, getting progressively sicker," Aker said.
Aker's second recommendation is to keep your small pets inside or in safe enclosures. "Desert coyotes can be found in small groups, in pairs, or solo," she noted. "They will and have attacked small pets here on garrison over the years -- and not necessarily only during evening hours. When they feed on handouts and garbage and become sickly or desperate, they become dangerous, because they don't fear humans. They are extremely opportunistic feeders, both hunting for and scavenging their meals as they come across them."
DON'T THROW ROCKS
What should you do if you see a coyote? Aker recommends "harassing" them by yelling, clapping your hands, and waving your arms. "A normal, healthy coyote is extremely shy and fearful of humans," Aker said. "A 'habituated' animal not only starts to tolerate human activity but will actually become attracted to it, in hopes of a handout."
"I certainly don't recommend attacking coyotes, by throwing rocks or other means," Aker said. "The last thing we need is an inadvertently-injured animal running around the post. It's not an effective long-term deterrent anyway. The absolute best thing to do is not attract them in the first place. If a coyote approaches you, the best thing you can do is to keep your distance and make noise or wave your arms.
Aker said if you do see someone feeding coyotes, call DPW Environmental (760-380-2681 or 760-380-3740). These two numbers are typically answered during business hours but messages can be left after-hours as well. If a coyote is posing a problem after hours, call the MP station (380-4444/4400) or range operations (380-3878). They can then route the complaint to a 24-hour responder.
Biologist Liana Aker, a native of Minnesota is the lead biologist at Fort Irwin Directorate of Public Works. She has an M.S. in biology from Eastern Washington University and has worked at Fort Irwin since Nov. 2008.