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College Students Wily in Study of Coyotes

January 21, 2012
The Associated Press , Ohio Valley Outdoors

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Coyotes dominate Bethany Wallace's life.

She has been known to haul dried deer carcasses to be used as coyote bait around in her car.

"They can consume you and take over your life," Wallace, a 27-year-old Akron woman and graduate student in biology at the University of Akron, said with a laugh.

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Ohio Valley Outdoors–
A precise count of coyotes in Ohio is not known.
They are found in all 88 of Ohio’s counties.

Wallace often spends 60-plus hours a week involved in a project to study coyotes, a secretive and highly adaptive mammal thriving in Northeast Ohio.

"You just try to make the best of every situation, to make it fun," she said of getting so wrapped up in coyotes.

Wallace is involved for the third year in a research project directed by Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, and biologist Marlo Perdicas.

Also involved in the project are the University of Akron, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland Metroparks, the Norton-based nonprofit Wild4Ever and Ohio State University.

A precise count of coyotes in Ohio is not known. They are found in all 88 of Ohio's counties and are thriving in and around cities and suburbs in Northeast Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The coyotes are usually not a threat to humans, but they can kill small animals, including pets.

Most coyote sightings occur from January through March during mating season; most conflicts with humans and pets are in April and May, when adult coyotes are protecting their young. The young coyotes disperse in October and November and seek their own territory.

The focus of the study centers on coyote movement and activity in the Cuyahoga Valley to help park officials devise long-term wildlife management plans.

At present, 16 coyotes are wearing $4,000 global positioning system collars and are being tracked automatically. Eleven are resident coyotes; five were passing through or dispersing to other areas.

The collared animals range from Independence south to the Cascade Valley Metro Park just north of downtown Akron. A few animals have moved in and out of the downtown area.

One male coyote wandered through Summit, Portage, Cuyahoga, Geauga and Lake counties all the way to Lake Erie.

The coyotes were caught with rope snare traps. They were knocked out with drugs, and blood samples were drawn. The animals then were released back into the wild with identifying microchips and ear tags.

The GPS collars are programmed to send cell-phone text messages on their location every five hours during the day, when coyotes typically are inactive. From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., the collars are set to send locations every 90 minutes.

Those intervals can be remotely changed, but more frequent messages would deplete the batteries that power the collars.

The collars are programmed to fall off the animals in August. They can then be retrieved and used again.

A total of 35 coyotes have been tracked over the three years. Radio collars went on five coyotes in the first year. There were 14 coyotes with collars in Year 2. Three got radio collars; the rest got GPS collars.

Liberty Park in northern Summit County was the focus of the study's first year. The emphasis is now on the Cuyahoga Valley between Akron and Cleveland, where perhaps 150 coyotes live.

Wallace is looking more closely at how coyotes respond to hikers, bicyclists and equestrians on trails in the Cuyahoga Valley.

"Do they care or do they not care that people are on the trails, too?" she asked.

That involves installing monitors to count people on select trails in the 33,000-acre federal park and closely analyzing the animals' movements via the collars.

It has been known for a long time that animals like coyotes frequently use trails.

That analysis is continuing, Wallace said.

"It's fun getting to know each animal, its habitats and following its travels on a map," she said.

Wallace has, with the help of strategically located trail cameras, captured pictures of some of her coyotes.

UA graduate student Greg Franckowiak, 27, of Garrettsville, is taking a close look at the features of each coyote's home range in the Cuyahoga Valley.

Trends are starting to emerge, and the data are interesting. Each animal has its own story to tell, said Dr. Gregory Smith, a UA biology professor involved in the project.

Most of the resident coyotes have staked out their own territory. Urban coyotes have smaller territories. Males tend to have larger territories than females. Females with youngsters tend to stay at home. Roads, rivers and railroad tracks help shape coyote turf.

The latest evidence shows the average male among those collared weighed 37 pounds; the females, 32 pounds.

Perdicas said most of the Cuyahoga Valley coyotes tend to stay in forests, wetlands and meadows, although they might wander through nearby commercial and residential areas.

The preliminary research also indicates that coyotes, especially transients, travel long distances along river corridors, Smith said. That makes such corridors especially valuable in developing wildlife management plans for local parks, he said.



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