Village of Bald Head Island
Coyote Management Plan
Background: The coyote is a non-native species to North Carolina undergoing range expansion throughout the US. Coyotes have been present on Bald Head Island since at least 2014, but possibly earlier. For the first time this year, coyotes depredated a significant number of sea turtle nests on Bald Head Island. The Bald Head Island Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Protection Program encountered coyotes disturbing turtle nests and eating the eggs beginning June 1, 2019. During the sea turtle nesting season, the Conservancy routinely patrols the islands beaches for nesting sea turtles and places plastic or metal wire cages on all nests.
Non-lethal deterrents used throughout the summer included multiple cage designs and materials, reinforcing the cages every night, rebuilding the cages immediately after coyote damage, and using wolf urine as a deterrent. The Conservancy also increased patrol efforts to the exhaustion of the interns, brought in additional staff to extend hours and weeks of patrols, and changed patrol patterns to keep coyotes guessing.
Sea turtle nest with plastic cage depredated by coyote: note scattered sea egg shells (total nest loss).
Plastic cage reinforcement and metal cage.
Tunneling by coyotes into sea turtle egg chamber.
Plastic cage reinforcement with PVC.
July 19, 2019 – After all non-lethal deterrents proved ineffective and knowing the number of eggs taken would likely increase if nothing was done, the Conservancy consulted wildlife biologists with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the Village to determine if removal of coyotes by trapping was a viable option. The Village Council directed staff to seek a depredation permit at its July 19, 2019 Work Session. The Conservancy and Village Staff then worked together to obtain the permit.
September 20, 2019 – After receiving the permit, several licensed trappers were contacted for proposals to trap and manage the predators. Village Staff presented its recommendations to the Village Council during the September 20, 2019 Council Work Session. Staff recommended using a licensed trapper that had been suggested by Hope Sutton, the Stewardship Coordinator for the NC National Estuarine Research Reserve and Southern Sites Manager (who oversees the Bald Head Woods Reserve). The trapper has experience trapping predators for conservation purposes (protecting vulnerable shorebird species) on other State lands.
Village staff provided details on methods which referenced two options for trapping, one which would take place as soon as possible under the permit (which is valid through the end of October) using a snare trap, and one which takes place during trapping season which is between January and March and would use leg traps (soft footholds NOT metal claw grips). Both options would result in the animals being euthanized.
The Bald Head Island Conservancy was present at the Council Work Session and indicated the methods that had been used to try to protect the turtle eggs and advised that Bald Head Island should have a plan to manage the coyotes. Over 2,000 turtle eggs (approximately 12% of all eggs laid this season) were depredated by coyotes, with this particular group of coyotes rapidly adapting to predator protection methods. Predator removal for protection of endangered species (including sea turtles and shorebirds in coastal communities) is a conservation management tool commonly used by other municipalities and managed lands.
Village Council directed Staff to proceed with the requested work during the trapping season (January 1 through March 1, 2020). Staff recommended this option because the manner of trapping used during this time would be more advantageous (there should be less people and pets on the island to impede the process). The cost to the Village will be approximately $3,680.
October 4, 2019 – After making citizens aware of the Village’s plans to remove coyotes for the purpose of sea turtle conservation, the Village received several messages with questions and concerns. In order to provide the most accurate information, Village Staff and Conservancy Staff took the messages and drafted the Q&A’s below. The Village will be posting updates to this plan on this webpage and will also notify citizens via the Village’s Voice newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign up to receive the Village’s Voice.
Bald Head Island
Coyote Management Plan Q & A
Why are we choosing “winners” (turtles), over “losers”(coyotes)?
Sea turtles are officially designated, as “Threatened/Endangered Species” (Loggerhead: “Vulnerable” according to IUCN: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/3897/119333622) and Bald Head Island beaches are critical nesting habitat. Coyotes are considered an “invasive species” in North Carolina, which means this is not their native habitat, that they reproduce quickly, and have the potential to cause harm to the environment, the economy, or even human health (https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Threats-to-Wildlife/Invasive-Species). Sea turtles may not be the only benefactors of these efforts, in addition to sea turtle nests, coyotes commonly destroy nests of vulnerable beach-nesting birds, including Wilson’s Plover (NC Species of Concern) on BHI.
Don’t the coyotes eat rats, which is a good thing?
Predators such as coyotes do keep rodent populations in check. Unfortunately, the coyotes on Bald Head Island are also eating sea turtle eggs (>2000 this summer) and after using several methods to deter the coyotes from doing this, the Bald Head Island Conservancy (BHIC) has asked that the Village assist in managing the coyote population in an effort to control the current group of coyotes who have adopted a learned behavior of chewing through and digging into the protective cages around turtle nests. This management plan is not intended to completely eradicate coyote from BHI, so there will still be coyotes left to control the rodent population.
BHI didn’t trap and kill fox when they got into the turtle nests and ate eggs, why is BHI doing it to coyotes?
Sea turtles are officially designated as “Threatened/Endangered Species” while coyotes are considered “Invasive”. While the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is also a non-native species, red fox numbers have been low on BHI since 2013 and have not successfully preyed on the number of sea turtle nests that coyotes have this year (>2,000 eggs and 12% of all eggs laid) and the scale of the problem is very important. Since 1995, the average loss of sea turtle eggs to predation is 175 eggs/season. The number of eggs lost to predation this year was over 1000% higher than average. The largest loss to depredation prior to this year was in 2005, when 520 eggs were lost to fox depredation.
Alligators are predators and we don’t kill them, why coyotes?
The American alligator is a predator and serves an important role in the ecosystem. Alligators have not been known to disturb sea turtle nests on Bald Head Island. https://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Reptiles/Alligator
Is this type of trapping inhumane/cruel?
Licensed trappers are held to very strict standards by the state of North Carolina including the required use of humane traps (soft footholds NOT metal claw grips) and promptness in handling trapped animals (must be checked daily). Information about trapping laws and safety in North Carolina can be found here: (https://www.ncwildlife.org/Trapping/Laws-Safety)
What about pets?
Licensed trappers are held to very strict standards
including the use of humane traps (soft footholds NOT metal claw grips) and
promptness in handling trapped animals (must be checked daily). The Village of
BHI will alert residents when trapping will occur; it is not advised for dogs
to be off leash/out of owner’s control during this time. Review the tips in
this document in
regards to protecting your pets from coyotes: (https://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Profiles/Coexist-Coyotes-v2.pdf)
Why can’t we live in harmony with coyotes?
Humans can live in harmony with coyotes. It is the unique circumstances of being on a barrier island with Endangered/Threatened nesting sea turtle species that is cause for concern. The coyote population on Bald Head Island has learned how to dig out the cages protecting the turtle eggs. The coyotes pose a threat to these Threatened/Endangered species and to do nothing ensures that these same predators return to take more eggs each and every season, especially as the coyote population continues to grow.
What are the downstream consequences such as rodent and deer population?
The number of coyotes that are expected to be removed (which is not all of them) will have a negligible effect on the rodent and deer population.
Was there an environmental impact assessment performed?
No. An environmental impact assessment is not required to trap and remove coyotes. However, Village of BHI and BHIC staff worked diligently to consult the scientific literature and state wildlife biologists about the most effective and humane way to manage the coyote-sea turtle interaction. For more information, see NC Coyote Management Plan: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Species/Coyote%20Management%20Plan_FINAL_030118.pdf
Has anyone been hurt by a coyote on the island?
No. According to NC Wildlife Resources Commission “Coyote Quick Facts” document (https://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Profiles/Coexist-Coyotes-v2.pdf), attacks on people including children are rare. Bald Head Island Public Safety Department indicated that there have been no Active 911 alerts regarding coyotes this year. The Public Safety Department has had a handful of citizens come in to inquire about coyotes after they had witnessed them. The main concern was for their pets; officers advised them to have control over their pets while walking them and to always carry a flashlight while walking at night.
Will this only make the situation worse?
It is the hope of the BHI Conservancy that this plan will result in the elimination of the group of coyotes that have learned how to dig out the cages protecting the turtle eggs. Since the BHI has very limited connectivity to the mainland via East Beach, immigration of new coyotes should be much slower compared to a mainland population. Although this is a fairly new phenomenon, evidence from the scientific literature has indicated that when groups of coyotes that have “cued into” preying on sea turtles are removed, predation of sea turtles decreases in following years (Eskew 2012).
How often are the traps going to be checked?
NC law requires the traps to be checked daily.
Have cage traps been considered?
According to the NC furbearer biologist and certified trappers, cage traps are not an effective method to capture this species, as coyotes are wary of cage traps.
Has a count been done to see how many coyotes we have?
The number of coyotes on BHI is uncertain, as the most effective method for counting them would require trapping and collaring/tagging them. In summer 2019, the Conservancy recorded a 4-fold increase in nightly coyote sightings over summer 2018 during standardized spotlight surveys. There are at least two families with pups in the beach/dune areas which will add another 6-8 coyotes that may be hunting for eggs next season. The concern is that coyotes on Bald Head Island have adopted a learned behavior of targeting the protective cages around turtle nests.
Is the plan to kill ALL of them?
No. While there is no legal limit to the number of coyotes that can be trapped and killed, the plan is to take as many as can be captured in the timeframe given to the trapper. At this time, the trapper is expected to stay on the island 6 days and 5 nights.
Has any study been done to show that removing them won’t bring back the rats?
No. The number of coyotes that are expected to be trapped should have a negligible effect on the rat population.
Can this be done in stages to see if taking a smaller number will do the job?
At this time, the trapper is only expected to stay on the island 6 days and 5 nights.
Can a way be devised to harden the turtle nests from further damage? I have heard from nest monitors, that any human presence will deter them?
The Conservancy has tried multiple non-lethal deterrents. The Conservancy has one of the few full-night sea turtle patrols in North Carolina and BHI has an active nest monitor program, so there was a prominent human presence on BHI beaches throughout the summer. Conservancy interns caged all of the nests immediately after they were laid, used multiple cage designs, reinforced them every night, and rebuilt them immediately after coyote damage. They attempted to use wolf urine as a deterrent. The Conservancy increased patrol efforts, brought in additional staff to extend hours and weeks of patrols, and changed patrol patterns to keep coyotes guessing. It was common for a coyote to return to a nest as soon as the sea turtle team moved down the beach: the “sea turtle patrol team” became a “coyote patrol team.” The Conservancy cannot find any examples in the literature of coyotes effectively maneuvering past sea turtle cages, so this may be a new behavior unique to BHI. 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.
Obviously, we can’t have all the nests monitored at night, but have any other coastal areas with turtle nests had a predator issue like ours?
Many sea turtle programs do not implement full-night patrols and/or caging all nests, which are very time and labor-intensive and expensive methods. BHIC is already implementing more non-lethal methods than other programs in an attempt to reduce predation rates. Predator removal is a common practice to protect sea turtle nests in Florida (Engeman et al. 2003) and South Carolina (Eskew 2012), for example. It is also used on uninhabited beaches in Georgia. In Florida, up to 95% of sea turtle nests were destroyed by predators prior to implementing a predator management plan (Engeman et al. 2007). In South Carolina, removal of coyotes resulted in less sea turtle nest predation in following years.
Who made the decision to manage the coyotes?
The Bald Head Island Conservancy board and staff brought the continued issue of sea turtle nest predation by coyotes to the attention of Village staff and Council. The Village Council made the decision to seek the depredation permit with the advice of BHIC and NCWRC. The Village was the permit applicant (because the Village is the “property owner”) and sought proposals from licensed trappers. Once a trapper was found, Village Staff reported the details, including the cost to Village Council. There was consensus from Village Council to direct staff to engage with the trapper.
What are the other options besides trapping?
Nonlethal methods include night patrols, caging, “hazing” (scaring coyotes using loud noises), and scent deterrents, have all been attempted by BHIC. Habanero pepper has been used to some success in South Carolina (Lamarre-DeJesus & Griffin 2013), but it is unknown what impacts this may have on turtle hatchlings, and this has not been attempted in NC. Hunting coyotes is legal on private property year-round, according to state laws, but municipal laws may supersede these (i.e., local discharge ordinance).
Can the coyotes be released somewhere appropriate instead of being killed?
Because coyotes are an invasive species throughout North Carolina, it is not permitted to move and release them to a different area.
If you need access to the full version of these articles, please contact BHIC.
Breck, S.W., S.A. Poessel, M.A. Bonnell. 2017. Evaluating lethal and nonlethal management options for urban coyotes. Human-Wildlife Interactions 11(2):133-145.
Engeman, R.M., R.E. Martin, B. Constantin, R. Noel, J. Woolard. 2003. Monitoring predators to optimize their management for marine turtle nest protection. Biological Conservation 113:171-178.
Engeman, R.M. & H.T. Smith. 2007. A history of dramatic successes at protecting endangered sea turtle nests by removing predators. Endangered Species Update 24(4):113-116.
Eskew, T.S. 2012. Best management practices for reducing coyote depredation on loggerhead sea turtles in South Carolina. M.S. Thesis, Clemson University, Clemson, SC.
Lamarre-DeJesus, A.S. & C.R. Griffin. 2013. Use of habanero pepper to reduce depredation of loggerhead sea turtle nests. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 12(2):262-267.