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Naushon's mission to run a environmentally sustainable and economically viable farm is confounded by presence of the new keystone predator, and wolf replacement, the coyote.  


Our coyote is more formidable than its western counterpart.  As populations edged eastward through Canada our coyote ancestors hybridized with wolves.  These backcrossed with coyotes incorporating some of their genes.  Scientists think that, as a result, our coyotes are larger, live in packs, and can hunt cooperative for larger prey.  


Coyote Benefits


Coyotes can perform a beneficial ecological service by controlling prey populations.  When coyotes arrived on Naushon there was a documented plunge in the deer population.  This is typical after the arrival of coyotes.  It happens to rabbits and foxes as well.  The affected animals have existed for generation without wolves, their ancestral predator, and they have lost their edge.  Lack of predation pressure from wolves has made them evolutionarily sloppy.  From the human perspective the effect is devastating:  populations of prey animals plunge, sometimes for years.  The animals are not gone, however.  During those years there is rapid natural selection for prey animals that  are more alert, more muscular, more intelligent.  This is the case on Naushon today where deer are returning to sustainable levels.


Coyote Problems


On the other hand, coexisting with coyotes requires careful thought.  Our research on the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS) has shown that coyotes can learn to specialize on particular foods.  A coyote that eats dead sheep will quickly learn to eat live ones.  However, those that are not allowed to develop a taste for sheep ignore them.  If farms get off on the wrong foot with coyotes it can be a difficult cycle to break with clear economic impacts.  


GPS collaring by NBCS in response to coyote complaints in Rhode Island has also shown that coyote problems stem from a common issue.  In our area are subsidized in numbers of ways by anthropogenic food resources.  These include road-killed deer, unburied winter-killed farm carcasses, careless disposal of garbage, domestic animal food left outdoors, and the wildlife feeders.  Previous research has shown that numbers of individuals in each pack (a pack is a breeding unit or family group) increase as a response to rich food resources. Our work in Rhode Island is showing that coyote pack territory size (area defended by one breeding group) decreases when the pack is richly subsidized by food.  If average pack size is smaller more breeding groups can fit on the island.  It appears, therefore, that food subsidization of coyotes may affect coyote populations in two ways leading to larger packs in smaller territories.


There is a second problem with anthropogenic subsidies.  If the coyotes make the association between the people and the food they become habituated, losing their natural fear of humans.  Coyotes are often active during the day.  This can seem exciting, unnerving, or dangerous, depending on your point of view.


Co-existing with Coyotes on Naushon:  Research Goals


Since coyotes are highly visible on Naushon and active during the day we suspect that they may be receiving significant food subsidies from humans.  Our first step is to examine whether this is the case. We will be collaring animals from two packs:  an unsubsidized pack on the west end and one on the east end where we suspect subsidies may be affecting the density of coyotes.    Naturally we suspect the "Gentleman's Exchange" may be part of problem so we will trap our east end coyote there.  It will be interesting to compare the numbers in each pack and the territory size of each.  


GPS collars will tell us the size and locations of the pack territories.  Numbers of coyotes in each pack will be counted using motion- and heat-activated video at scent posts we place in core areas within each pack's territory.  If we find significant subsidization occurring, our second step will be to suggest ways to button things up.  We will track the pack density and territory size on the east end as we look for a response to removal of resources.  We hypothesize that pack numbers will drop and territory size will increase.  Since coyotes aggressively defend their territories this could mean lower coyote numbers on the east end.  Our goal is to force coyote numbers to drop to a level sustainable by the natural resources available on Naushon creating a safe and sustainable relationship between coyotes and human residents.  We are very excited for the opportunity to include Naushon in our coastal coyote study and look forward to reporting our progress to you as we go.


Many thanks to the family members and staff who have encouraged us to pursue this project.  N. Mitchell

This male is barking at us as we approach.  He knows us well.  We have been trying to catch him since last AprilPhoto by Katy Wolfe.

This is a young female who appears to be the mate of our Alpha male.  She travels with him and was in heat when we caught her.  She should be having puppies soon if she has replaced the former Alpha female, Trinity.  Photo Eli Mitchell.

Don't have Google Earth?

Double click on the Google Earth logo (above left) and open the folder. Then double click each kml file  to see GPS points of our coyotes in Google Earth. By zooming in and clicking on points you can see the coyote's name and when it was there.  Phase 1 coyotes were tracked during 2005-8.  Phase 2 coyotes are being collared right now.

Coffee - a female (yellow dots) from the South Portsmouth Pack

Phantom - a tall rangy male (purple dots) that spends some time around Glen Farm but is usually close-by Vanderbuilt Lane, Portsmouth where his pack is fed by some of the residents. Not good.

Would you like to name a coyote?  

We need to find the perfect names for our Alpha Female and Alpha Male (turqouise and green dots, respectively).  These are the newest NBCS study animals - a pair - caught and collared this Spring.  These two (who often move together) are from the Peckham Pack and range from Sachuest Point, Middletown, all the way to the Glen in Portsmouth. 

These are good coyotes:  they eat mostly natural food and specialize in deer.  They also like the apples at SweetBerry Farm.... but who doesn't.  

Do you have a name for either of this lovely pair of coyotes? Send your suggestions to:

NBCS Current Coyotes

Narragansett Bay Coyote Study Staff

Numi Mitchell, Ph.D. – Lead Scientist and Project Director
(401) 423-0866
Numi is a biologist specializing in the study of resource and habitat use by wildlife. She usually troubleshoots endangered species problems – this is her first project in which management issues concern a species that is too successful – an interesting challenge. 

Richard Wolfe – Project Manager
(401) 932-7925
Rich Wolfe is in charge of facilitating the implementation of the NBCS Coyote Management and Coexistence Plan. He continues to work remotely as head of two other businesses but moved to Rhode Island two years ago to pursue alpaca ranching with his wife and two children.  He has a keen interest in the topic of coexistence with coyotes.

Spencer Tripp – Professional Wildlife Trapper
(503) 669-5040
Spencer is a professional trapper with over 50 years experience with the behavior and habits of fur bearers. He is the National Trappers Association Director for the Rhode Island Trappers Association acting as the liaison between the State and National Agencies.

Ralph Pratt, D.V.M. – Project Veterinarian
(401) 397-8887
Ralph took his degree at Tuft’s School of Veterinary Medicine and has his own practice, the West Greenwich Animal Hospital, which he runs with his wife Amy Pratt, D.V.M. He started his graduate career in wildlife ecology, moved on to veterinary medicine, and has now come full circle as he became Chief Veterinarian for the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study.

Lyn Malone - Director of Education for NBCS
(401) 245-4395
Lyn taught for many years in Barrington but now has her own educational consulting firm, WorldViews, specializing in GIS curriculum development and training.   She is an ESRI-certified K-12 GIS instructor and is the senior author of the extensive ESRI textbook Mapping our World.  Since 2005, Lyn has brought her ideas,  expertise in science education, and GIS talents to the project.
Lynne Mallonee - Director of Humane Education at the Potter League
(401) 846-0592
Lynne has for years brought humane education to elementary and middle-school classrooms on Aquidneck Island and Jamestown.  In 2006 she incorporated our coyote study findings in her curriculum.  She thrills kids with hands-on learning, coyote facts and stories, and teaches them how to safely coexist with and appreciate our newest top predator.
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