U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) is a natural laboratory in which equipment Soldiers use is tested to ensure it works as it should wherever in the world they are called upon to serve.
As such, YPG has a deeply vested interest in being good stewards of the environment, and wildlife abounds here.
The proving ground is home to one of the largest and most genetically diverse populations of bighorn sheep in Arizona. The Sonoran Pronghorn, virtually extinct in the early 2000s, is now regenerating thanks in part to Arizona Game and Fish officials intentionally introducing the creature into YPG as a safe haven to help it regenerate. A fringe-toed lizard that is threatened in most of the American West thrives at YPG, as does the Sonoran tortoise.
Coyotes are among the many animals found here, and are usually somewhat elusive.
“Coyotes are always going to come through at night when we’re not looking,” said Daniel Steward, YPG wildlife biologist. “It’s been that way ever since there has been a YPG, and for several thousand years before there was a YPG. We are in a very good piece of habitat for all kinds of wildlife.”
Coyotes are nocturnal, foraging at night. The desert’s primary predator, they eat rodents and rabbits and are seen more often during the winter time.
“Coyotes are going to be really active before the sun comes up,” said Steward. “In the winter, we are pulling into our parking lot or leaving our front doors before the sun comes up. During the summer, nobody sees coyotes anymore—they haven’t gone away, they’ve just gone back to shelter before the sun comes up.”
YPG’s proximity to the Colorado River makes it attractive for a wide variety of species, including coyotes, Steward said.
“Anywhere in the state that I’ve ever been, when I hear coyotes yip and howl at night, it’s usually near water systems. Coyotes are going to be in the best habitat where there is lots of cover and forage, and there’s nothing better for habitat than the Colorado River corridor.”
Coyotes are typically not a problem for human communities as long as people refrain from feeding them.
“The only real risk for people from coyotes is if we are feeding them. When coyotes are fed by humans, they lose their fear and start to expect to be fed. There have been cases across the country where people get bit in communities where people are feeding coyotes.”
If a coyote makes repeat appearances at a work site, Steward said, the likeliest explanation is that someone in the area has fed it before.
“If somebody is handing that coyote a sandwich every morning, that coyote is going to keep coming back, and won’t necessarily know one person from another.”
Landscaping in housing areas can also attract the creatures: palm trees, date palms, and even pods from mesquite trees could serve as forage for a coyote. Nonetheless, removing other sources of food can help deter them from wandering in yards.
“The best way to guard against that type of behavior is securing garbage, making sure pet food is put away, and limiting the amount of open water,” said Steward.
Though coyote hunting is legal in Arizona with a hunting license, doing so in residential areas is not.
“We have about 250,000 acres on YPG that are available to hunting with a YPG hunting access pass,” said Steward. “Our hunting units are very specifically chosen to make sure they are in areas that are not going to interfere with our test mission or in any areas that would cause a security issue. It’s easy to control coyotes in our hunting units, but not as easy to control them on our test sites or cantonment areas.”
Steward says that coyotes’ intelligence makes trapping them difficult.
“Coyote trapping is extraordinarily challenging. A coyote knows its environment and knows when you are doing something that doesn’t fit in.”
The best way to deal with coyotes is too ensure they maintain their natural fear of humans.
“If a bighorn sheep walks up to you, I want you to be quiet and let the sheep pass on its own. If a coyote walks up to you, I want you to be big, scary, and loud. When I see a coyote in a parking lot, I’ll bang things around and yell until I see the coyote run.”
Steward says filling a soda can with gravel and shaking it vigorously is a good noisemaker. He stresses keeping a safe distance from coyotes and other wild animals.
“They’re a wild animal. We have to keep our distance from any wild animal, for the animal’s safety and ours.”