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Officials grapple with increasing reports of coyote sightings

C. Henderson / Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Tracy Reitman has listened to coyote calls just about every night for more than a decade.

She grew accustomed to the sounds of wildlife, including the nightly coyote chorus, after moving to her home on the Pine Glen development 14 years ago.

The proximity to nature is one of the features that drew her to Cottage Grove.

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"That's why I picked this city: We've got one foot in the city and one in the county," Reitman said.

But a growing concern over coyote populations in the Twin Cities metro area spiked this summer when a Cottage Grove woman reported a coyote had killed her dog.

City officials discussed possible routes to address the community's concerns, such as efforts to increase awareness or to relocate the animals, at their Dec. 6 meeting.

"When you escalate from having those wild dogs, in essence, coming after Fido, the next thing they do is jump up and maybe it's a child or an older person that's walking on one of our trails," Council Member Steve Dennis said.

Coyote sightings reported to Cottage Grove Public Safety jumped from two in 2013 to 16 in 2017. Those numbers include both living and deceased animals.

Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said development throughout the community could contribute to increased sightings in more densely populated areas.

"It's really a product we've created with our parks and trails," Woolery said at the City Council meeting. "We have a great network of trails and open spaces, and coyotes are just adapting."

Coyote populations are establishing and growing in the Twin Cities metro, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

They often find suitable habitats in parks and natural lands, which are abundant throughout the region, said Cynthia Osmundson, the department's regional wildlife manager.

Although they're accustomed to human activity, the agency has no reports of coyotes attacking humans.

"Most coyotes would be easily scared by humans," Osmundson said, adding that clapping or making noises generally frightens them. "That little bit of harassment will probably keep them away."

Small dogs, cats and other pets, however, could be seen as prey, she said.

Residents concerned about coyotes can take a few precautions, such as removing bird feeders that attract small rodents coyotes eat.

The DNR and Cottage Grove police caution pet owners against allowing cats and small dogs to roam unsupervised.

"Cottage Grove has a leash law, so you're not supposed to let cats roam around freely anyway," Deputy Public Safety Director Pete Koerner said.

The city is finalizing a date for a public meeting on the coyote issue, where the public will have an opportunity to weigh in, Koerner said.

Although Cottage Grove offers a "Living with Coyotes" page on its website, the city plans to boost awareness of existing resources, particularly information on how to deal with unhealthy or potentially rabid animals.

"As we move forward, there's going to be a huge educational component to it," Koerner said.

Dennis also suggested contracting a private company to trap coyotes and relocate them to a less populated area.

The DNR doesn't actively trap coyotes. Police departments typically don't, either.

In Woodbury, police spokeswoman Michelle Okada said there's little police officers can do besides refer callers to DNR resources.

If and animal is rabid or aggressive, Okada said, officers will work with the landowner to find the best course of action.

Because coyotes are not a protected species in Minnesota, residents with permits can hunt the animals where city ordinances allow discharging guns or archery.

Cottage Grove allows firearm hunting in portions of its eastern edge. Archery is permitted in largely the same area, along with areas in the city's southwestern corner.

Woodbury allows hunting near the city's eastern and southern border.

But Reitman said she hopes the city and DNR can come up with an alternative to killing the animals.

Coyotes might mistake growing residential development as their natural habitat, she said.

"Why kill them when it's not their fault?" Reitman said. "Coyotes don't want to live near us. Given time, they will find a new spot to go — they just want us to leave them alone."

RiverTown Multimedia reporter Youssef Rddad contributed to this story.