Send the coyotes to Congress


At last, there are coyotes in the capital. The first confirmed sighting of a coyote in Washington, D.C., was reported in September, and rumors of new sightings have circulated briskly ever since. What a relief. All we Westerners have to do is get the critters elected.

These adventuresome D.C. coyotes, first spotted in the relative wilderness of Rock Creek Park, don’t have a whole lot left to prove. In their native home, coyotes long ago established their reputation as crafty survivors. They show up regularly in Native American tales — usually as mischief-makers — and their persistence is memorialized in the names of countless canyons, mesas, gulches and sports teams.

When white Western settlers launched coyote-slaughtering campaigns in previous centuries, coyotes just sped up their breeding. They refilled their ranks as fast as they were depleted, and biologists believe that coyotes are now more numerous than they have ever been.

Coyote-human relations have improved a bit in recent years. At first, urban sprawl around Seattle and Los Angeles and Phoenix looked like it would do the job bullets and poison couldn’t. But as it turned out, the wily animals were well equipped for the ‘burbs of Western cities. They feasted on garbage and housecats, and even expanded their range farther east. They started showing up in Texas, the Midwest and the urbanized Northeast. Now, they’ve taken the capital.

As someone who feels under-represented in Washington, D.C., these days, I find this news encouraging. Also encouraging are reports that coyotes are growing fatter as they move east, since Westerners need a few more heavyweights on Capitol Hill. It’s time to leap over the species barrier and recruit these tough characters for national office.

Westerners of all political stripes could find something to like about these new representatives. For instance, we could count on them for tenacity. Like Arizona Sen. John McCain, coyotes have survived the worst and come back fighting. And coyotes are preeminently adaptable, having found ways to get by in the strangest of new environments. They wouldn’t be fazed by an abrupt shift of power in the Senate or the House, or by a change in administrations.

Coyotes, famously, can fend for themselves. Our representatives wouldn’t be bought by corporate lobbyists or cowed by vicious snarls from the other side of the aisle. Plus, as the original tricksters, coyotes are well-known for their street smarts — and they are saturated with political savvy. They wouldn’t be taken in by meaningless rhetoric or scuffles over symbolic issues of a moral sort.

Perhaps most reassuring, we could depend on the coyotes to make themselves heard. Their voices, as most Westerners can attest, carry for miles. True, coyotes might have a few weaknesses. They’d probably be distracted by political pork, though they’d get over that once they found out what it really was. They might also bear Westerners a wee bit of resentment for those nasty poisoning campaigns.

But let’s hope bygones could be bygones. Coyotes, after all, are among the few members of the animal world that have benefited from civilization. And the land and people of the West could really use their help on Capitol Hill.

There aren’t many in Congress these days who can claim such a deep familiarity with the West. Coyotes are natives of the place, and have explored nearly every inch of it. They know our mountains and canyons and other wildernesses, of course, but they also frequent our suburbs, our freeways and the high-rises of our inner cities. They’ve even sampled what we throw away.

So they know the score. They know the wild places of the West are getting scarcer. They’ve seen how recent droughts, fires, and insect attacks have hammered forests, wildlife, and rural communities. Because coyotes move so easily between the natural and human worlds, they might also know that there really is no boundary between the two. The damage done out there, to the open spaces of the West, will, sooner or later, affect our lives and the lives of our neighbors.

Some of our representatives in Congress seem to have forgotten their animal nature. To them, the environment is a political punching bag, something to sneer at. But coyotes don’t have the luxury of forgetting their roots. They know that we all need clean air, clean water and maybe a housecat or two to get by. No matter their party loyalties, we could count on them to vote for what really matters.

Michelle Nijhuis is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( in Paonia, Colorado, where she lives and writes.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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