Much attention is paid to carnivore conservation in the American West, yet expanding and recovering populations of coyotes, mountain lions, black bears and other native wildlife demand a shift in human perceptions and behaviors to promote coexistence in Middle America. Rural populations traditionally emphasize consumptive use of wildlife over the intrinsic and ecological values of wildlife. Partly as a consequence of these exploitive attitudes toward wildlife, particularly egregious acts that occur in rural areas far from public scrutiny are wildlife killing contests, where participants seek cash and prizes such as guns to kill the largest or most number of a particular species (often coyotes, bobcats, foxes and other undervalued species). Yet shifting demographics in the Midwest, particularly in the form of increasing urban populations, minority representation and amenity migrants (heightened by pandemic-related, remote work moves), offer an opportunity to promote human-wildlife coexistence.
Project Coyote ( ProjectCoyote.org ) is well-poised to meet this compassionate need in myriad contexts from urban to suburban and exurban to rural. A national organization working to promote coexistence with coyotes and other wildlife, Project Coyote has growing connections in the Midwest with one staff and one senior advisor from Indiana and Iowa, respectively, and one program associate from and currently living in Missouri. To leverage these personal and professional connections and increase capacity to work locally across the region, Project Coyote aims to strategically grow capacity in the region, raise public awareness and fill critical knowledge gaps in best practices for communicating and promoting coexistence. We propose to do so through public education, proactive conflict prevention and close collaboration with The Rewilding Institute (TRI; rewilding.org ).
The late great conservation biologist Michael Soulé—a Project Coyote science advisor until his passing last year—emphasized that successful large-scale conservation depends on three 3Cs: Cores, Connectivity, Carnivores, and eventually added a fourth: Coexistence. Project Coyote’s expansion of programs into the Midwest will contribute to each of these Cs by working with TRI to strategically identify core habitat and the connectivity between them and implement our
carnivore coexistence programs accordingly.
Overview & Background
2.1 Project Coyote’s Mission and Programs
Project Coyote is a coalition of scientists, educators, farmers, and citizen leaders promoting compassionate conservation and peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy. We seek to create fundamental change in the way coyotes and other native carnivores are viewed and treated in North America, and we work with communities in both urban and rural areas to foster an appreciation for the critically important role that apex predators play in maintaining ecosystem health and biodiversity- as well as ways to coexist with them safely and peacefully. We rely largely on the engagement and expertise of renowned professionals who serve as State Representatives, Science Advisory Board members, Program Associates, Wildlife Educators, Citizen Leaders, and active volunteers.
Project Coyote focuses on six core program areas: Reforming Predator Management, Ranching with Wildlife, Coyote Friendly Communities™, Science & Stewardship, Keeping It Wild, and Artists for Wild Nature. These programs change attitudes by offering positive information on an issue that is so often negative and providing workable solutions to prevent conflicts with wildlife. Within these program areas, we use multi-prong strategies to achieve our goals. These include educational and community outreach; collaboration with local organizations and individuals; public presentations and agency training workshops; and media (and social media) outreach.
2.2 Coyote Friendly Communities™
Conflicts with coyotes continue to increase as urban and suburban sprawl encroach further every year upon wildlife habitat. Most conflicts are the result of human behavior and could be avoided using common-sense preventative measures.
Coyotes are the scapegoats. State agencies and local governments frequently lack the resources for public education on wildlife issues and living cooperatively with wildlife is rarely a policy priority. Too often the solution to conflicts is lethal and indiscriminate—including trapping, poisoning, aerial gunning, and killing pups in their dens. Such approaches are ineffective and fail to recognize the intrinsic value of all life and ecological value coyotes provide to socio-ecological systems—for example, keeping rodent populations in check and helping to control disease transmission. Traditional lethal control methods kill or maim non-offending coyotes, non-target wildlife including endangered species, and even pets.
Our Coyote Friendly Communities program educates and equips urban and rural audiences with the tools, resources, and expertise needed to foster coexistence through education, communication, science, and behavior modification. The program emphasizes consistent messaging, collaboration, and community empowerment. We work with humane societies, municipalities, research institutions, schools, animal control officers, and wildlife agencies to provide direct assistance and advice about living with coyotes.
We designed Coyote Friendly Communities to be a comprehensive education program that supports the collective well-being of communities and their inhabitants—including humans, companion animals, livestock, and wildlife. Through Coyote Friendly Communities, our staff and volunteers provide hands-on training to agency and law enforcement personnel; offer public presentations; conduct hazing (e.g., aversive conditioning) workshops; and provide co-branded
signage, factsheets, door hangers, and brochures that offer information for keeping families, hikers, companion animals, and wildlife safe. The program encourages the use of preventative measures and humane, nonlethal control methods based on a biological and ecological understanding of coyotes and the needs of the community.
2.3 Promoting Carnivore Coexistence in the Midwest
With coyotes spread out across North America, and with human encroachment into wildlife habitats ever-increasing, conflicts are on the rise and the situations are complex. The conflicts in each community are unique to that community and require tailored responses. Additionally, combating myths and fears and teaching people how to coexist with wildlife require consistent, persistent messaging, outreach, and collaboration with a variety of stakeholders in a particular community. In addition to threats that urban coyotes face, wild carnivores—coyotes, bobcats, bears, foxes, cougars, and wolves—suffer tremendously as a result of the implementation of lethal control methods—including wildlife killing contests, trapping, poisoning, denning (killing pups in their den), and other cruel and senseless practices perpetrated by private individuals and local, state and federal governments.
The Midwest is a region ripe for rewilding landscapes and improving how we interact with apex predators is key to improving habitats along the spectrum of natural to built environments. Over the past few decades, coyotes—along with black bears, mountain lions, wolves and other native carnivores—are expanding back into former ranges from which humans had expelled them. The diverse human responses range from celebration and appreciation to immediate calls to allow recreational hunting or fear-based arguments that predators will delete wild and domestic prey. The opportunity to create a new ethic of human-carnivore relationships is presently occurring and the Midwest is the frontier.
Three of the biggest challenges we face in our pursuit to end the exploitation and mass killing of coyotes and other North American wild carnivores and extend our goals of peaceful coexistence into the Midwest are capacity, a lack of public awareness, and knowledge gaps in best practices for communicating and promoting coexistence.
2.3.1 Capacity Challenges
To address capacity challenges, we continue to search for and bring on dedicated, knowledgeable and talented volunteers, but ideally we would have a paid staff person in every state to help us expand our geographic reach. Since our National Carnivore Conservation Manager Dr. Michelle Lute, who is originally from Indiana, joined our team, we have greatly expanded our programs and campaigns capacities. Our long-time Program Associate and now Midwestern representative Vicki Markus recently moved back to her native Missouri. Together, Michelle and Vicki have brought extensive knowledge and experience to our Midwestern capacity. On-the-ground ambassadors like Ms. Markus are crucial to our campaigns—among other activities, they help us: identify the particular issues occurring in that state and meet with agencies, police officers, animal control officers, schools, and others to develop a plan for coexistence; give presentations to the public and training workshops to professionals like animal control officers; recruit new volunteers to our cause and keep them engaged; recruit new supporters (regular citizens who follow our work and respond to our action alerts); and serve as spokespeople to the media. Growing our network of
local allies and ambassadors in Midwestern states would help not only because of their proximity to the people and activities in their home state, but also because having a local presence would lend credibility to our campaigns.
2.3.2 Lack of Awareness
To address a dearth of coexistence mindsets and measures, we engage in public outreach campaigns through multiple avenues. Community assistance from state representatives and citizen leaders to promote conflict prevention currently includes virtual presentations that encompass education and demonstration, which will also include onsite presentations when pandemic-related restrictions are no longer in place; dissemination of Coyote Friendly Communities materials such as co-branded signage, factsheets, door hangers, Nextdoor template posts, and field guides outlining best practices; and training of local volunteer teams in community outreach and human-coyote conflict reduction.
Project Coyote currently assists approximately 70 cities, towns, agencies, and wildlife rehabilitation centers with creating individualized programs designed to address the specific needs of each community or organization. We specifically seek to develop partnerships in strategically located areas of the Midwest where we would like to raise our profile in defense of predators. Current focal cities where we are building relationships and developing coexistence plans to serve Coyote Friendly Communities establishment include Louisville, Kentucky, and select communities to be identified based on Project Coyote State Representatives and other collaborators’ connections in Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.
2.3.3 Knowledge Gaps
Project Coyote Representatives and Science Advisors continue to provide training and expertise to researchers, graduate students, and agencies seeking to study coyote ecology and behavior, research and implement new and innovative coyote deterrents, and understand public opinions and behaviors related to coyotes. In 2020, we were approached by Paula-Marie Lewis, a candid researcher about to complete her dissertation analyzing coyote management plans, to serve as a
mentor and collaborator for applied research to inform our programs and campaigns. With support from the BeWildReWild Fund, we will conduct research to better understand human-wildlife interactions, identify hotspots that need community assistance through Coyote Friendly Communities program implementation, and best methods for promoting coexistence in these contexts. Science Advisory Board member Dave Parsons, originally from Iowa and thus
bringing his deep experience of the Midwest, will mentor this researcher-intern position, with support from Dr. Lute and in collaboration with Ms. Markus and The Rewilding Institute.
Below we outline the tasks, activities and objectives needed to extend Project Coyote’s programs in the Midwest. We will initiate these activities in the Midwest in a six-month funding timeframe in 2021, but many goals will extend well beyond that term.
3.1 Identify Our Campaign Team And Key Roles
The major players in our program include:
- Project Coyote: We can provide the following: advice and strategy; background research; identification of areas for where we can implement Coyote Friendly Communities campaigns; campaign materials (including factsheets, signage, coyote management plans, science-based best practices for reducing conflicts with carnivores); grassroots support; and media/social media outreach.
- The Rewilding Institute: We will collaborate with TRI on their complementary project to map habitat and connectivity in the Great Plains and Mississippi watershed, which will be critical to identifying where to prioritize our work to foster human-wildlife coexistence. The Rewilding Institute and Project Coyote have a close partnership which includes our shared carnivore conservation biologist, Dave Parsons.
- Intern: Primary responsibilities include coalition building; outreach to stakeholders; media outreach; and leading initial research outlined above.
3.2 Implement Proactive Prevention of Conflicts with Wildlife and Establish Coyote Friendly
Developing a proactive program to help prevent conflicts with coyotes and other wildlife will garner positive media attention about predators and offer communities solutions to reducing conflicts with wildlife. We will identify and prioritize communities and habitat in which to work based on TRI mapping results.
Objective 1: Expand Coyote Friendly Communities into targeted communities in key states.
Project Coyote assists approximately 70 cities, towns, agencies, and wildlife rehabilitation centers with creating individualized programs designed to address the specific needs of each community or organization. We are creating a parallel programmatic approach to align with the unique needs resulting from the pandemic. For example, as more people work remotely and relocate from urban to more rural environments, encounters with wildlife are increasing and education about
coexistence is more critical than ever. We specifically seek to develop partnerships in strategically-located areas where TRI mapping suggests the greatest conservation need and the best opportunity to rewild landscapes through predator protection and coexistence. Current focal cities where we are building relationships and developing coexistence plans to serve Coyote Friendly Communities establishment and broader predator management reform goals include:
Louisville, Kentucky; Mendocino County, California; select communities to be identified based on Project Coyote State Representatives and other collaborators’ connections in Missouri, New Jersey and Colorado.
Community assistance from state representatives and citizen leaders currently includes virtual presentations that encompass education and demonstration, which will move back to onsite presentations when the pandemic-related restrictions are no longer in place; dissemination of Coyote Friendly Communities materials such as co-branded signage, factsheets, door hangers, Nextdoor template posts, and field guides outlining best practices; and training of local volunteer teams in community outreach and human-coyote conflict reduction (see below). We also plan to establish a) a Coyote Friendly Communities certification program for progressive communities that have adopted coyote coexistence programs, b) volunteer Coyote Hazing Teams (pandemic-permitting) in key communities coupled with expansion of our Coyote Hazing and Coexistence Toolkit, and c) a customized Coyote Management Plan that promotes coexistence and can be adopted by interested municipalities.
Objective 2: Continue to advance our partnership with the National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA).
In 2019, we established a partnership with NACA, which represents the interests of animal control officers (ACOs) and equips them with knowledge and tools that will help us expand our reach into the ACO community. ACOs are on the frontlines of human-coyote conflicts and often are unequipped to deal with such situations—which may lead uneducated communities to adopt misguided lethal control methods. Partnering with an esteemed nationwide organization like NACA will enhance our Coyote Friendly Communities program’s credentials and broaden our reach.
We have begun developing Project Coyote-NACA co-branded materials (e.g., door hangers, brochures, signage) to distribute at no charge to communities through a new webpage hosted on our website. The webpage will host online versions of the materials for co-branding with local entities (e.g., municipal animal control entities, local human societies) as well as a helpline for ACOs to get timely information on local issues and draft position statements (e.g., against lethal
trapping) for local adoption. Materials will be specifically designed with target audiences in mind,
including communications directed at ACOs, designed to help ACOs communicate with their stakeholders (from residents to local policymakers) and Spanish language materials. Additionally, Project Coyote will promote the use and availability of these materials at the virtual 2021 Animal Care Expo to replace NACA’s annual conference, which we have had great past success in relationship-building but has been postponed. In addition to developing the new Coyote Friendly
Communities mentioned in Objective 1, we will leverage those Coyote Friendly Communities to disseminate NACA co-branded materials and thereby further improve local non-lethal response to human-wildlife conflict. Program Associate Heather Cammisa (based in CO) is coordinating this effort for Project Coyote and will reach out to NACA affiliates and ACOs in the Midwest to expand our reach in the region.
Objective 3: Raise public awareness in a targeted Midwestern state aimed at promoting non-lethal methods for resolving coyote/predator conflicts and reducing coyote killing.
Wildlife advocates and organizations in several states (e.g., Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri) have reached out to us requesting our help in promoting non-lethal methods for resolving coyote/predator conflicts and reducing the use of lethal methods. We aim to conduct targeted and strategic statewide polls and/or focus groups to garner public sentiments around coyotes and approaches to conflicts. With the acquisition of Michelle Lute, whose dissertation research included public opinion surveys, we have essential knowledge to guide statewide polling/focus group efforts. We will then implement Coyote Friendly Communities in the targeted regions to raise awareness about the benefits of coyotes to local ecosystems and as a platform to discuss the ineffectiveness of killing coyotes.
Objective 4: Continue to provide expertise and leadership to communities seeking alternatives to coyote trapping and killing.
We receive hundreds of requests annually from individuals and communities across the country seeking alternatives to trapping/lethal predator control to address human-wildlife conflicts. We approach local officials and resident leaders with a recommendation that the community adopt a Project Coyote-designed, customized Coyote Management Plan which emphasizes proactive public education, co-branded materials, acceptance of our wild neighbors, and reduction of wildlife attractants in place of trapping and killing (coyote serving as the flagship animal for the many targeted and persecuted wild animals where humane solutions cross-pollinate across species).
Objective 5: Continue to support coyote research that contributes to Project Coyote’s mission.
Project Coyote Representatives and Science Advisors continue to provide training and expertise to researchers, graduate students, and agencies seeking to study coyote ecology and behavior, research and implement new and innovative coyote deterrents, and understand public opinions and behaviors related to coyotes. In 2021, we aim to collaborate with Science Advisory Board member Dave Parsons and The Rewilding Institute to mentor a postdoctoral researcher to explore
the research areas above.
Additional areas of research we will conduct or support include: a) use gold-standard research practices to study the impact of indiscriminate killing on carnivores and the effectiveness of nonlethal deterrents; and b) conduct habitat connectivity work to support recovery of wolves, bears and other imperiled wildlife species. We will also create a Project Coyote annual science report that includes new research relevant to our work and draft white papers on relevant topics to influence decision-making and public opinion (e.g., exploring appropriate areas for new livelihood strategies and how just transitions can support sustainable livelihoods that meet future economic needs such as outdoor recreation and wildlife eco-tourism).
Objective 6: Continue to expand our geographic reach and recruit, train and engage new Citizen Leaders.
Ideally, given the scope of the problems we seek to address, we would have a paid state director in every state in the country who could focus full-time on implementing Coyote Friendly Communities. Until we have the resources to accomplish that, volunteer citizen leaders will propel Coyote Friendly Communities and our other programs forward. It is crucial that we recruit talented volunteers and keep them engaged.
If adequate funding is secured, we will provide online training workshops and recorded webinars for Project Coyote State Representatives and Citizen Leaders. Although in-person training is preferred to build interpersonal relationships and provide hands-on experiences, webinars streamline resources (i.e., can be recorded once and shared, with opportunity for direct Q&A sessions as needed) and can be used when current pandemic restrictions exist.
Objective 7: Build our toolkit for addressing the increased dialogue about human-wildlife interactions on community forums such as Nextdoor.
Community forums continue to perpetuate myths and disseminate incorrect information about coyotes (and other native carnivores) that lead to unnecessary fearmongering and ultimately vigilante-type responses to their presence. The pandemic has amplified the dialogue—sometimes to the level of hysteria—as more people work remotely, often relocating from urban to rural environments and spending more time outdoors. To help people navigate this transition, we are creating a modified coexistence toolkit that addresses how to react in situations that may be novel and unnerving. With this information, residents across the nation will be ambassadors for Project Coyote on their own community forums.
Outcomes for six-month 2021 time frame
4.1. IDENTIFY TEAM ROLES AND PRIORITY AREAS: Create three-year program plan detailing campaign team roles, deadlines, research plan for filling knowledge gaps and priority states and communities based on TRI mapping results.
4.2. PUBLIC EDUCATION: Initiation of public education and outreach with at least: five opinion pieces (i.e., letters to the editor, op-eds) published in major newspapers, five earned media placements, and 10% growth in social media among residents of Midwestern states.
4.3 . PROACTIVE PROGRAMS: Initiation of Coyote Friendly Communities programs and dissemination of NACA co-branded educational materials in at least two communities.
4.4 IDENTIFY ON-THE-GROUND volunteers and ambassadors in at least two communities in the Midwest who can help achieve our identified goals and programs in the region.
4.5. REPORTING: All outcomes will be summarized in a report. Outcomes achieved in collaboration with The Rewilding Institute will be shared in a Rewilding the Heartland webinar series, co-hosted by BeWildReWild, and promoted in Project Coyote social media and email platforms. Webinars will be recorded and made available on the websites of sponsoring groups.
Project Coyote’s Coyote Friendly Communities program works in tandem with our Keeping It Wild program, our youth education program. Keeping It Wild program educates young people about predators and coexistence, fosters respect and compassion for wildlife, and increases students’ environmental and scientific literacy. We believe that informed, inspired, and empowered students will act conscientiously and compassionately on behalf of animals and the planet. Learning about apex carnivores, asking meaningful questions, and conducting careful investigations teaches students about broader issues—including the interconnectedness of ecosystems, community, and public health, and the increasing scarcity of natural resources. Keeping It Wild brings the concept of peaceful coexistence to students from kindergarten through high school. Designed for use in classrooms as well as natural settings, the program provides volunteer educators who use curricula with versatile materials and lesson plans, as well as interactive presentations, that teachers can adapt for their own classrooms.
After we establish core Coyote Friendly Communities in the Midwest, we aim to implement our Keeping It Wild program by providing educators with training and resources to teach about the critical role predators play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. We offer a flexible instructor-guided and youth-driven model. Educators inspire students to identify problems they care about and develop means of solving them. The coyote’s presence in urban settings, for example, provides a natural opportunity to reach urban youth and to connect them with the environment in which they live. Keeping It Wild is popular with teachers and immediately resonates with kids. By developing young people’s interest in and appreciation for coyotes and all wildlife, Project Coyote is building a uniquely compelling base of influence while preparing the next generation for responsible stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants.
Dr. Michelle Lute, National Carnivore Conservation Manager
Role: Directs programmatic and campaign activities; supports research activities
Vicki Markus, Program Associate and Midwest Representative
Role: Provides programmatic and campaign support and local knowledge
Camilla Fox, Founder and Executive Director
Role: Leads oversight and direction of all operations
Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute:
Paula-Marie Lewis, Researcher and Intern
Role: Provides programmatic and campaign support and local knowledge; leads research activities (to be hired/onboarded)
Dave Parsons, Science Advisory Board member (Project Coyote); Carnivore Conservation Biologist (The Rewilding Institute)
Role: Directs programmatic and campaign activities; mentors researcher and Intern
The Rewilding Institute:
John Davis, Executive Director
Role: Leads complementary mapping project, supports collaboration between TRI and Project Coyote
Estimated budget – 6 months (March-August 2021)
OBJECTIVE 1: Expand Coyote Friendly Communities partnerships
1(a) Development of customized Coyote Friendly Communities Coexistence Plans (2 plans @ $1,500/each)
1(b): Development of customized Coyote Friendly Communities materials (signs, brochures, etc.)
OBJECTIVE 2: Advance partnership with the National Animal Care & Control Association
Develop co-branded website and materials to share with partnering communities and agencies
OBJECTIVE 3: Conduct a public awareness campaign in Midwest state aimed at promoting non-lethal
methods for resolving coyote/predator conflicts and reducing coyote killing
Social media impact campaign $2,500
Staff time to support Objectives 1-7 $12,000
Administration overhead $2,000
TOTAL Seeking From BeWildReWild Fund at Iowa Natural Heritage
Since the mid 1990s I have spoken of TRUSTING WILDNESS and the liberation which comes as we move beyond our fears. For many in the Corn Belt it may seem vague and hypothetical to imagine a future where humans coexist with cougars, bears, and wolves across what is now a tragically over domesticated landscape. Yet the coyote is authentically wild, and these cultural icons already live here. They have accepted us, but can we accept them? I believe it is with these beautiful and essential creatures that we can learn to trust that which we have long been taught to fear. Project Coyote will help us do that. The BeWildReWild/BIG RIVER CONNECTIVITY Vision depends on our ability to make the shift.-Roger Ross Gipple