BALD HEAD ISLAND — Coyotes on Bald Head Island have managed to eat an estimated 300 sea turtle eggs this nesting season, according to a July Bald Head Island Conservancy estimate.
Conservancy staff worked to ward off coyotes from sea turtle nests during its record-breaking season this summer by using wolf urine, PVC poles, and even human presence — without success.
After running thin on options, the Conservancy turned to the Village of Bald Head Island for guidance. Earlier this month, the Village acted by hiring a trapper who will begin euthanizing coyotes captured using a leg trap as early as January. Village staff recommended this method and time period because of the island’s low off-season human and domestic animal populations.
Bald Head Island Council first directed staff to seek a coyote trapping permit at its July 19 meeting. The Village obtained the permit in August for the statewide coyote trapping season, which begins Nov. 1 and ends Feb. 29.
On Sept. 20, Bald Head Island Village Council directed staff to hire a trapper that will ultimately euthanize captured coyotes. The trapper will cost the Village approximately $3,680.
Trapping in January
Carin Faulkner, Bald Head Island’s spokesperson, said trapping will not begin immediately.
Faulkner is still working to gather information about the decision as the Village receives concerns from the island’s residents. “We are getting a lot of questions and concerns,” she said Monday.
Absent incident report data, which Faulkner said she is still tracking down, she said she recently spoke with a Public Safety representative who did not recall any calls regarding coyotes.
Asked how many coyotes are believed to be located on Bald Head Island, Faulkner said it’s difficult to say. “I can tell you, that we’re unique in that it’s a barrier island. there’s not a whole lot out there,” she said. “The uniqueness of where we’re at is kind of driving the decision.”
Faulkner said Council’s Sept. 20 decision to hire a trapper began in July when Dr. Chris Shank presented the Conservancy’s issue with the species at a Village work session. Shank reported the Conservancy’s concerns to Council with urgency, Faulkner said, asking if there was anything the Village could do.
Shank told Council in July the coyotes showed little to no fear of humans as they approached turtle nests. Coyotes are naturally shy around humans, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, but may become acclimated to them when food is scarce or threats aren’t present. The wild canines are ecologically valuable for their ability to manage prey populations, like rodents or groundhogs, in check, according to Commission.
Coyotes were striking nests between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., Shank explained. Because the Conservancy relies on summer interns, Shank said he was concerned that it would be “open season” in September on the nests once the intern’s night patrols come to an end.
In a response to Councilor Kit Adcock that the issue represented a natural life cycle, Shank said at the July meeting coyotes are an issue in the southeast. Hunters killed approximately 45,000 and trappers harvested an estimated 6,300 coyotes in 2016-2017 in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Coyote Management Plan, finalized in 2018, recommends both humane lethal and nonlethal methods to protect sea turtle eggs. Removal must be properly timed and targeted, according to the plan. The plan finds lethal and nonlethal coyote taking methods are warranted to protect sea turtle species because of their federally-listed threatened or endangered status.
It is possible to trap non-targeted species, like dogs, bobcats, foxes, etc., while trapping. Foothold traps are the most common method used for trapping coyotes — the Commission does not regulate the type of trap used.
According to its website, the Bald Head Island Conservancy sees mostly loggerhead or green sea turtles, both endangered species. This season, the Conservancy has observed 169 nests, the most it’s ever seen since 1986 when it tracked 143 sea turtle nests.
Both the Conservancy and Shank did not respond to a request to comment Monday. Faulkner said she is working to develop a webpage that will feature frequently asked questions to address concerns the Village is receiving.
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