BALD HEAD ISLAND — Facing continued public concern, the Village of Bald Head Island has produced a detailed question-and-answer informational page that offers additional insight into its recent decision to hire a trapper to euthanize coyotes.
This sea turtle nesting season, the Bald Head Island Conservancy spent hundreds of hours attempting to ward off coyotes from protected nesting areas.
In July, the Conservancy approached Bald Head Island Village Council asking for guidance and assistance to mitigate the damage, which at that point, was estimated at approximately 300 lost eggs. After the July meeting, Council directed staff to apply for a depredation permit.
2,088 eggs lost
Coyotes preyed on approximately 2,088 sea turtle eggs this nesting season, about 12% of all eggs laid, according to the Conservancy. This nesting season also happened to be the Conservancy’s most abundant; it has tracked 170 nests in 2019, breaking its previous record of 143 nests set in 1986.
Over a 24-year period, the Conservancy’s average sea turtle egg loss to predation is 175 eggs a season, according to the Village. Before this season, the Conservancy’s greatest predation loss was in 2005 after foxes preyed on 520 eggs. This season’s egg losses are over 1000% above average.
Released Oct. 4, the information page addresses questions that remained following the Village’s brief initial announcement of the decision the week prior. After obtaining a trapping permit Council decided to hire a trapper, costing the Village approximately $3,680, at a work session on Sept. 20. Though the decision was not a formal vote, Council directed staff to hire the trapper after reaching a consensus, according to Village spokesperson Carin Faulkner.
The Village’s first announcement on Sept. 26 stated coyotes would be contained by a leg trap and later euthanized. The follow-up announcement explained leg traps would be comprised of “soft footholds” and not “metal claw grips.”
This summer, the Conservancy’s “sea turtle patrol team” turned into a “coyote patrol team,” according to the Village’s update.
Even with extended staff hours, full night patrols, wolf urine, reinforced cages, and scare tactics, Conservancy staff could not deter coyotes from accessing nests. “We suspect the coyote population is growing, and individual coyotes have developed behaviors to navigate sea turtle nest cages (chewing, digging, and tunneling),” the Conservancy shared in its Oct. 3 nesting season update.
Coyotes preying on Bald Head Island’s turtle nests have grown accustomed to humans and do not back off nests in their presence. The species is naturally shy around humans, according to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, but without threats can become acclimated.
When coyotes prey on sea turtles, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recommends both humane lethal and nonlethal removal methods, including night patrols, caging, hazing, and scent deterrents. This season, the Conservancy has exhausted nonlethal removal methods. One method not employed includes the use of habanero pepper, however, the Conservancy has not attempted this tactic because its impacts on turtle hatchlings are unknown.
“The concern is that coyotes on Bald Head Island have adopted a learned behavior of targeting the protective cages around turtle nests,” according to the Village’s update.
This learned behavior may be unique to Bald Head Island, according to the Conservancy. “The Conservancy plans on continuing its efforts to use and reinforce cages, and to try new designs, but it does not think that the current group of coyotes will stop targeting the nests,” the Village’s update states.
Responding to the question ‘why are we choosing “winners” (sea turtles) over “losers” (coyotes),’ the Village points to the Loggerhead’s status as a “vulnerable” species. Coyotes are an “invasive species” in North Carolina that rapidly reproduce and “have the potential to cause harm to the environment, the economy, or even human health,” according to the Village.
As an invasive species, releasing trapped coyotes back into the wild is not permitted. When coyotes that have “cued into” preying on eggs are trapped and later euthanized, the Conservancy cites scientific research that shows egg predation decreases in subsequent nesting seasons.
Wilson’s Plover, a North Carolina Special Concern Species, may also benefit from the Village’s coyote trapping efforts. Coyotes aso prey on the eggs of beach-nesting birds like the Wilson’s Plover, according to the Village.
Bald Head Island’s trapper will visit the island for six days and five nights during trapping season, between Jan. 1 and March 1. The trapper will check foothold traps daily, in accordance with state law.
According to the 2018 Coyote Management Plan, it is possible to trap non-targeted species — dogs, bobcats, foxes, etc. — while coyote trapping. The Village will alert residents when trapping will take place, according to its recent update, and will discourage pets from being off-leash during the trapping time frame.
Bald Head Island’s Department of Public Safety has no record of coyotes harming humans but did note a few resident inquiries about pet safety after coyote sightings. Coyote sightings are up fourfold this season compared to last year, according to the Conservancy, but exact population figures are unknown.
“To date, there have been no documented attacks on humans by non-rabid coyotes in North Carolina,” according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Coyotes have attacked humans in the U.S. and Canada, however, dog attacks are far more common, according to the Commission.
No legal limit is in place to limit the number of coyotes trapped. However, the Village’s plan is to “take as many as can be captured in the timeframe given to the trapper.”
“This management plan is not intended to completely eradicate coyote from [Bald Head Island],” according to the Village.
Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at email@example.com