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The chickens were this 12-year-old’s friends. Then the birds were eaten by a pack of coyotes

The killers came in broad daylight.

When the slaughter was over, Georgia Garrett lost 16 of her friends.

Delilah, Sleepy, Ellen, Matilda.

Chickens, yes. But still buddies as far as the 12-year-old University Place girl was concerned.

“Most people have them for meat or eggs,” Georgia said just days after the killing. “But they’re friends of mine because I really like chickens.”

Feathers still littered the grassy yard, days after the early June attack.

The suspects in the mass homicide: coyotes.

Georgia’s mother, Amanda, found the victims. Shortly after 1 p.m., she saw her family’s chickens lying in the dirt with their wings spread out. She thought they were taking dust baths.

“Then I saw feathers and more than one not moving chicken,” she said. “I came out and was just stunned.”

Eight dead chickens were left behind. Another eight were missing.

There were no witnesses to the attack but given the perpetrators had to jump the Garrett’s six-foot tall fence, killed some chickens and took others, the evidence added up.

The Garretts have raised chickens since 2003. They’ve not had a problem until now.

Garrett called a dispatcher with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She didn’t like the answer she got.

“She told me, although they are considered a nuisance, the department does not take calls about coyotes,” Garrett said. “She then proceeded to tell me I could hire a private trapper to trap the coyotes on my property, and then humanely euthanize them.”

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Georgia Garrett, 12, holds Goldie inside her coop at her home in University Place, Wash., on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Garrett lost 16 of her 22 chickens after what her family believes was a coyote attack on the flock. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

COYOTE POLICY

That wasn’t good advice, said Matt Blankenship, wildlife conflict specialist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The department does want to hear about problem coyotes and they will visit urban residents to discuss solutions.

Just don’t expect the department to trap or relocate coyotes the way they do with bear and cougars.

Unlike cougar or bear, coyotes are not managed by Fish and Wildlife. But that means coyotes can be hunted and trapped year round. A hunting permit is needed.

Blankenship calls hunting and trapping a last resort. The coyotes will eventually repopulate.

Instead, he advises residents to coyote-proof what is important to them: chicken yards, house pets.

“Coyotes are opportunists,” he said. “If they know there are chickens free ranging in your backyard, they’re going to go for it.”

Blankenship acknowledged that if coyotes are seen near playgrounds or other areas where children congregate, the “living with wildlife” maxim might not fly with parents and guardians.

Neighbors or groups can pool their money and hire a trapper, he suggested.

Chickens may remain a favorite food, but predatory attacks on humans by coyotes are extremely rare.

“We know that the majority of their diet, even in an urban environment, is natural prey — rabbits, rodents,” said Karen Povey, the conservation engagement manager at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

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Georgia Garrett, 12, feeds her chicken Ellen inside her coop at her home in University Place, Wash., on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Garrett lost 16 of her 22 chickens after what her family believes was a coyote attack on the flock. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

COYOTE COUNTRY

Povey, in partnership with the University of Washington Tacoma, is working on a project that looks at how coyotes and racoons share Tacoma’s urban environment with humans.

The Grit City Carnivore Project’s goal is to understand how people and coyotes can live together.

“I want people to appreciate the richness that they bring to the urban environment,” Povey said.

So, did coyotes come to us or did we move in with them?

It’s a little bit of both, experts say.

Before non-native settlers entered Washington, coyotes were more habituated to the eastern scrub lands of the future state.

Coyotes have an important role in the wild, experts say. They cull young deer from herds. They keep down squirrel, raccoon, rat and other populations.

In recent decades, coyotes have followed the expansion of humans along with their garbage, dog food and other edibles.

“They are probably one of the more adaptable animals,” Blankenship said. “They can live and persist in our urban environments, and they do it well.”

And that’s what gets them in trouble.

In University Place, Tacoma and other municipalities, coyotes and humans are encountering each other with increasing frequency.

A Facebook group, “Tacoma Coyotes,” monitors sightings in the city. The June 26 University Place city newsletter contained an article headlined, “Be Wary of Wily Coyotes” that offered coyote prevention tips.

No government agency is eager to become the go-to crew for problem coyotes. That requires staff and equipment — an expensive outlay.

Animal control won’t respond because the animals are wild.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with coyote removal. But it focuses its coyote efforts on animals that attack sheep, calves and other livestock.

In its 2015 report, the Wildlife Services division of the USDA noted that it was receiving increased requests for dealing with coyotes in urban and suburban areas.

Just seeing a coyote in the city doesn’t make it a problem coyote, Povey said.

“There can be a incident where a coyote has negative interaction with people or pets,” Povey. “For the most part, they keep to themselves.”

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A coyote patrols a grassy bank at Willapa Bay. Craig Sailor Staff writer

GOING FORWARD

The worst thing humans can do, experts say, is to habituate coyotes to our presence.

“If one appears to be overly bold to a human or pet then you should wave your arms and shout and scare it off,” Povey said.

The Garretts have no intention of befriending coyotes that travel in the forested gulch behind their home. They are keeping a watchful eye on their remaining chickens while they build a taller, stronger fence around their poultry yard.

“The thing that scares me a lot is they’re getting more bold,” Garrett said. “They are learning how to adapt around humans. We may be encroaching into their space but they don’t have any predators of their own, except humans, and cars.”

HOTLINE

Residents who encounter dangerous wildlife are urged to call the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s dangerous wildlife hotline at 877-933-9847.

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Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.
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