Coyotes move into Colorado's Front Range

Residents and coyotes clash in the suburbs

  • Coyotes in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

    Colorado Division of Wildlife
  • Colorado Division of Wildlife
  • A mother and two young children (upper right in photo) pedal unknowingly toward a coyote on a bike path in Lafayette, on Colorado's Front Range. (The photographer called out a warning, once he got off this shot.)

  • 14-year-old Matt Scheper (left, with his mother, Debbie, in the background) fought off a coyote that attacked him last winter in Greenwood Village.

    Kevin Moloney
  • Ore, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that replaced Ellen Ruble's similar dog, which was killed by a coyote, growls at a bag of coyote lure scents belonging to trapper Jay Stewart.

    Kevin Moloney

On a summer's evening, Greenwood Village, Colo., glimmers with life. Redwing blackbirds clamor from cattails backed by resplendent cottonwoods and tasteful mansions. Ducklings clamber over rocks and plop into ponds, following their parents. The still-snowy Rocky Mountains gleam vividly to the West, as if there weren't 200,000 human beings between us and them.

Despite its location off Interstate 25 just south of Denver, this place is an oasis. Electrical lines are buried, the 14,000 human residents enjoy a median family income of $145,802, and a former Villager named Marjorie Perry donated a swath of land for a nature preserve so verdant it conjures up a symphony as you walk through it. Deer have been sighted in the neighborhood, and hawks. And coyotes. A whole lot of coyotes.

And that's where the needle slides off the record.

Controversy flared in this idyllic community in January 2009, after a coyote reportedly jumped on, but didn't bite, a 14-year-old boy in one of Greenwood Village's parks. The Village's government responded by sanctioning the killing of coyotes it deemed dangerous -- first by a contractor and now by the police. This pitted neighbor against neighbor, generated death threats to the contractor, and became, in the words of one lifelong resident, "the most contentious issue I have seen in Greenwood Village."

And while the Village garnered the most headlines, other communities along Colorado's urban Front Range have also seen more coyotes in recent years. Although nobody knows exactly how many there are, "their presence is much higher than what we've seen in the past," says Colorado Division of Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill. "Coyotes in the eastern plains will be a mile away before you get out of your truck. They're used to being shot at out there. Here, they'll just check you out to see what you're doing."

Coyotes are notoriously resilient. One study shows that pups born in populations that are hunted or trapped are more likely to survive into adulthood than those born to undisturbed populations. Coyotes have been known to dig up traps intended to catch them and urinate and defecate on the offending contraptions. They have both admirers and detractors, but everyone agrees on one thing: These intelligent, yellow-eyed canids are virtually indestructible -- something long recognized in Native American tales of the trickster Coyote, who dies and then returns to life.

"If we poured concrete over the entire state of Colorado, maybe we'd get rid of coyotes," says Churchill. "But maybe not even then."

Coyotes used to bite an average of one person per year along the Front Range, Churchill says, but since 2008, 10 people have been bitten by coyotes.

Five attacks were reported between December 2008 and March 2009. Three weeks before the Greenwood Village incident, a coyote trotted out of the cattails onto a golf course in Erie and bit a 9-year-old boy, who defended himself with a snowboard: "I whacked him," he told a local TV station. The next month, a Broomfield woman was playing Frisbee with her dog when a coyote appeared; she called it to her, extended her hand, and got nipped twice. The following month, also in Broomfield, an off-leash dog began chasing one coyote while another bit the dog-owner's arm. Also that month, two coyotes attacked a woman's off-leash Labrador just after she left her house in southeast Denver. When the woman tried to intervene, she was scratched and bitten.

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