Earth Day Plea: Fear “Digital Crack,” Not Coyotes

Today is Earth Day. Richard Wiese — host and executive producer of the Westport-based “Born to Explore” TV series — sends along a timely note. 

It’s co-signed by Jim Fowler — Wiese’s longtime friend, “Wild Kingdom” spokesman and Darien resident — as well as Dr. Marc Bekoff, a coyote expert at the University of Colorado who has worked with both Wiese and Jane Goodall. They say:

Nature and its wildlife are under siege. We also are witnessing a new generation of children who regard the outdoors as “a place that doesn’t get Wi-Fi.”

When Richard moved to Fairfield County almost a decade ago, he was told by neighbors not to leave his young children outside at dusk because coyotes might eat them. At the time this sounded amusing — who leaves their 2-year-olds alone anywhere, much less outdoors?

Richard Wiese and his family, enjoying the Westport outdoors.

Fast forward to the present. Not a day goes by where someone confesses that they are afraid to go outside because of the “coyote problem.” Worse yet, some are even arming themselves just in case.

There are many threats in our lives, but coyotes should rank far behind guns, alcohol, drugs, distracted drivers and even lawn mowers.

Yes, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, and more than 20,000 are injured.

The representation of animals — especially carnivores — in the media is based on bad science or no science, which is bad for the animals. What does the available data show? Coyotes very rarely attack. To put it in perspective, meteorites have hit more homes in Connecticut than people who have been harmed or killed by coyotes.

Research clearly shows that coyotes and other urban animals fear people. Most animals don’t associate good things happening to them around humans.  Whenever possible they avoid us at all costs.

What should we fear? Or rather, be outraged by? On any given beautiful day, we have legions of children sitting on a couch hypnotized by their electronic devices. Digital crack.

We fear that we are raising a generation of children who have “nature deficit disorder “ and are totally removed from the outdoors.

Psychologist Susan Linn notes, “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health … And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it from abuse and degradation.”

We should appreciate the presence of coyotes and educate ourselves on how to coexist with them, rather than instilling fear of them.  Let’s encourage the media to provide a more balanced view of coyotes (and other animals) based on what we know about them rather than irresponsible sensationalism. And for goodness sake, get your kids outside, let them track mud into the house, have grass stains on their knees and be thoroughly exhausted from fresh air and sunshine.

We need to re-wild not only our children, but also ourselves — before it’s too late.

41 responses to “Earth Day Plea: Fear “Digital Crack,” Not Coyotes

  1. We need to have the abaility to protect ourselves and be able to trap or fend off the coyotes. I can tell you this: if my child comes to an encounter with one that coyote is not going to see another minute of life. Who cares about coyotes when we have children running around? What’s more imprtnant?

  2. Excellent. This is one kid who spent nearly every minute of his childhood in the woods exploring, building forts and finding cool stuff. All I had for defense was a dime store pocket knife and an inoperable WWII training rifle made of wood. Never had to use either one.

  3. Scott Kuhner

    When my twin brother and I were young, about nine years old, we lived on Bayberry Lane just across from Lockwood Circle. Every afternoon we would play in the woods. There was a trail from behind a house on Lockwood Circle along Deadmans Brook to a pond near Sturges Highway. We built forts near the pond or just explored. I remember on afternoon at the end of May, we were playing with our friend Billy Kinsman and as it started to get dark, we said to each other that we should probably start to go home. When we got home as the sun was going down, our mother was angry and upset that we we out so late. It was almost nine O’clock and what we had forgotten was that it was daylight savings time close to the longest day of the year. Craig and I grew up playing in the woods and never gave a thought to the coyotes

  4. Perfect Earth Day message! I remember coming back from a school vacation and asking my students what they had done and being appalled that quite a few had only played computer games and watched tv. I think nature nourishes everyone…and it’s sadly an experience that some of us are missing. Get outside everyone. …it’s amazing!

  5. Bonnie Bradley

    Thank you Dan for this breath of fresh air. I have no particular sympathy for coyotes but the myths are medieval. Coyotes have not survived for so long by attacking humans, even small children – they are not called “wiley” for nothing. If your little “Fluffy,” feline or canine, or even your 2 year old child is let out at night unaccompanied it is at risk but in general coyotes are even more afraid of you than you are of them. But what sane parent would let a 2 year old out at night alone anyway? The truly dangerous wild animal is rabid and if you see one, coyote, fox, raccoon, acting strange and fearless in daylight go in the house and call the authorities. Don’t leave food or tasty trash outside accessible to night-time foragers. Coyotes are superb opportunists, they follow the food, wherever.
    In Litchfield County bears (a much larger and more dangerous threat to humans) are everywhere. They are sighted daily by residents and photos appear almost weekly in the local papers – this is no exaggeration. We have learned how to live in peaceful community with them – again, no tasty scraps, outside dog food bowls, etc. – and we get along fine. The only downside seems to be your bird feeder which you will have to bring inside at night or you will lose it. Actually, it is a remarkable co-existence.
    No, I’m not suggesting that we live in the same harmony with coyotes, but neither should we be cowering in fear from an imagined threat, manageable by common sense.

  6. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    I grew up on Calumet Road and my brother and I played in the near by woods, walked down to the Saugatuck and all the way to Lee’s Dam. The worst that we ever had happen, besides being scolded for coming home too late was a few blood suckers we had to pull off our feet or ankles from the water. Where we currently live we do hear Coyotes at night. The only caution I would take is never leave any pet food outside. Coyotes are interesting animals. They are highly intelligent and monogamous. They raise their young as a pair. Green spaces are so important for our growth, mental health, relaxation and stimulating imagination. Getting outside allows us relax, and reboot our creativity. Great Earth Day article. And, yes, I worry about my grandchildren who spend too much time with their electronic devices.

  7. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    Gerald Romano, Jr.
    I think in some small natures way that Coyotes can help lower the deer population in Westport and in turn eliminate some deer tics

  8. There is too much dependance on technology…Our minds have become addicted to it….People do not spend as much time outside anymore….It is because we can’t “control” nature….When we are hiking in the woods there is no “agenda”..Just “being “…As we get more and more addicted to technology and always having the PERCEIVED need to communicate and “KNOW”, we feel less comfortable being in nature and outside .It can be challenging when addicted to “let go ” ….Today let’s try and take a walk without our phones….The information we STILL be there when we return inside 😊

  9. My wife and I have lived in Westport for 30 years and, while I wouldn’t mind seeing fewer deer around, free-ranging wildlife is part of what remains of our town’s charm. We’ve seen coyotes around our home for years and, more recently, foxes seem to be showing up in increasing numbers. And while I understand the concerns people have about the danger these animals might pose to unattended pets and children, I worry a lot more about speeding and distracted drivers on our streets. I’m opposed to both hunting and trapping anywhere in the vicinity.

  10. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Get outside with your kids, have fun and if possible work up a sweat. The only thing you’ll have to worry about is when you have to go inside.

  11. Gloria Ginter

    Concerning trapping!
    When the Humane Society presented at Town Hall they pointed out that whenever a coyote is removed from a pack they are replaced by two the following season.
    But my real question is how will cats, dogs, even small children know that the trap is intended for coyotes and not them? I guess you could put up a sign.
    But coyotes don’t read well and my dog only reads Yorkie.
    Perhaps we should do what environmentalists suggest. If one crosses your path and you are not enchanted by natures beauty, make a loud noise.

  12. Bravo Dan Woog!

    Honestly, coyotes have been in Westport for years…do we really have the right to eradicate
    yet another species?

    I think not.

    What’s next? A ban on Chipmunks?
    Bluejays? Blue Herons?

    Stop it!

    Today should be dedicated to celebrating
    The Earth, a long awaited Spring and yes,
    All things great and small…

    Plant a few trays of vibrantly colored pansies
    Walk your dog at Winslow Park
    Enjoy the beauty of Spring Flowers blooming everywhere

    Take a deep breath and be grateful for
    All that Westport had to offer its residents
    And it’s wild animal population!

    • “What’s next? A ban on Chipmunks?
      Bluejays? Blue Herons?”

      I didn’t realize chipmunks, bluejays, and blue herons attack innocent humans and pets.

  13. Becky Ruthven

    Good for you! And, while parents are at it, leave the damned trees and stop clear cutting for lawns around mega mansions. It’s a crime what is happening to the environment in Westport. Not why i chose to move here 20 years ago. I thought it was “green”.

  14. Nancy Hunter

    I’m also reminded of the growing number of kids who are driven to and from school. “Stranger danger”, or what?

    • Nancy Hunter

      Fear mongering. Just get yourself — more so your TOWN — bear resistant metal garbage cans, as everyone knows that ALL animals associate humans with food! Put them in parks, at bus stops, outside all schools.
      Remove bird feeders (the birds will not notice!). Fruit trees are pretty, but not necessary in a town! Etc. Etc.

      Maybe (some) people need to go back to science class?

  15. The facts are: 1) traps catch five times more UNINTENDED victims than intended ones; 2) “culling the herd” always results in procreation to sustain the nature necessary number in the den; 3) a person has more chance of being hurt(killed) by an errant GOLF BALL than by a coyote; 4) one has a greater chance of being injured (killed) by a flying CHAMPAIGN CORK than by a coyote and 5) THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HUMANE LEG TRAP.

  16. Carol Barrett

    Good article.

    Sent from my iPhone


  17. Dick Lowenstein

    This also appeared in WestportNow on April 18. I commented then, was answered, and replied. Here’s the exchange, for your amusement:

    Dick Lowenstein
    We’re talking about what happens on one’s own property, not the state or country at large. One reason why we have more coyotes is more easy four-legged food pickings for them (too many young deer, for example). We want our children and grandchildren outside, but we don’t want them threatened by unpredictable carnivores.
    Like · Reply · Apr 20, 2017 9:42am

    Karoline Amezqua
    Sounds more like too many “children and grandchildren” than “too many young deer.” Where would you like the deer to go when human populations constantly grow unchecked and invade deer habitat and destabilize the predator-prey balance? Too many deer? “Unpredictable carnivores”? How about, out-of-control humans?
    Like · Reply · Apr 21, 2017 4:05pm

    Dick Lowenstein ·
    Your priorities are clear and they differ from mine. How about checking deer and coyote populations? Or do you prefer an open season on children?

  18. Richard, as someone who enjoys hiking, biking and camping, I agree with you, it would be nice if more people took advantage of the outdoors. I don’t, however, believe kids are spending more time on their electronics and less time outdoors because of the coyote problem.

    Since others chose to use this article to comment on the proposed amendment to the trapping law, I feel a need to comment on their inflammatory language and misinformation that is stated as if they were facts. This is a common practice used by those who oppose the amendment.

    First, the proposed amendment is very limited in scope. Under this amendment, recreational trapping will continue to be banned in Westport. We are not trying to eradicate coyotes. Again, the amendment does not allow recreational trapping. It will continue to be banned as it is today!

    Second, trapping nuisance coyotes WILL NOT cause a population explosion. Although it can happen with large scale trapping programs, we are not doing this in Westport. Stop twisting the facts. According to DEEP, other towns in Connecticut have implemented limited trapping programs to get rid of nuisance coyotes and they have not seen any increase in the coyote population. Attacks on pets and people, however, were eliminated due to these programs.

    With respect to the point that when you remove a coyote another may take its place, that’s OK. We do not want to see all coyotes removed from the community. Removing a nuisance coyote and having it replaced by a coyote that behaves like a “typical” coyote is a success. As many of the opposition has stated, most coyotes are afraid of people. They do not stalk pet owners while they are walking their pets or attack and kill pets like nuisance coyotes do. Using trapping as part of a coyote response plan will make Westport a safer community for residents and their pets.

    • Nancy Hunter

      “recreational trapping”? What is that?
      Preferably live trapping and relocation. Then again, just let them go their own way, like two cougars along a Skytrain station!

      • Coyote Population and Management in Canada
        Coyote Population and Management in Canada

        The Fur Institute of Canada wishes to affirm that:

        Coyotes are abundant in Canada

        Provincial and territorial laws exist to regulate the trapping and hunting of coyotes in Canada

        A regulated harvest of coyotes (classified as a furbearing animal) provides economic, social and cultural benefit to local Canadians

        Where coyotes exist in populated areas, there is a need for wildlife control under government regulation to ensure human safety and protection of property, including livestock

        Trapping of coyotes in Canada of any nature must adhere to the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards

        The Fur Institute of Canada supports a sustainable resource management approach advocated by all international conservation agencies and conventions, including the IUCN (World Conservation Union)

    • Peter Mackey

      Thanks Art for this sensible response to a ridiculous post. To suggest that its a trade off between getting our kids off of digital devices or protecting ourselves against nuisance coyotes is insane. I continue to be baffled when i see so many people rush to their fringe positions when, what you, and we, have been suggesting is just a common sense approach to dealing with an obvious and growing problem in this town. Many other towns have had the courage to come up with a plan. When i read these posts, i now see why Westport lags all others when dealing with this issue. Please…Sensible people…I know you’re out there…speak up for common sense!

  19. Nancy Hunter

    We don’t trap. We just put them on commuter rail!

  20. Thanks, Dan. Some pretty silly comments along with the rational ones. I haven’t lived in Westport since the Seventies, although my friends are still there, and I still feel closely connected. My departed family resides in Willowbrook, so I return regularly to pay homage. Now I live outside of Kansas City, surrounded by hills and woods, with Deer, nearby farm livestock, Foxes and Coyotes, as well as all manner of small creatures, like Raccoon and Possum. We have a small dog. We have neighbors who have small children. We understand and live with nature. We know what to watch out for: Bobcats and the occasional Mountain Lion. Big cats aren’t scared of people and would love a small snack. They jump fences. To those of you having fun fear mongering, put down your phone, shut off your TV, and go camping for a week or two in upper Maine. Preferably w/o a gun. Then comment. Unlike Bears or cats, Coyotes do not trust people (for good reason). They are more scared of us than you should be of them. Our backyard has a deer “throughway” from one forest section to another, so we have numerous species of predators around. Other than accompanying our Schnauzer outside for his evening constitutional (bobcats), nobody around here – including our family – has fear concerning children or larger-than-breadbox sized pets being accosted by Coyotes. They are beautiful to watch, and intelligent animals with many food options in the wild. As someone said, minimize your exposed trash and you won’t have a problem (although the Raccoons are pretty bright, too. And they have thumbs. And… they are fierce. Ever corner one? They can take out a German Shepherd). We live where we do for the positive exposure to nature. Our Westport house was in the woods, and wonderful for the same reason. As kids we’d wander far and wide in the woods without any concerns. That in lieu of sitting glued to refried TV, and we are all better for it. Have your kids try it. Without fear. However, if you don’t like the human-caused natural incursion into your pristine environs, you have options. Like moving back to the city. That said, there have been many documented cases of Coyotes living harmlessly in the middle of busy suburban neighborhoods, feeding on trash and the occasional small critter (Squirrel, Rabbit). They will scamper away when they see you. If you want to scare them off, just shout or clap your hands. Those of you suggesting rushing out to buy a gun at the first sign of “big, scary nature with fangs,” it’s you we are more scared of. Many more small children are killed by smart phone-related causes, so maybe you should shoot your phone. (And of course, limit kids’ screen time anyway, for all the societal, cultural and juvenile brain-growth related reasons, but that’s another blog). That also might help minimize the dissemination of “alternative facts.” Go out and enjoy Spring, and let the creatures be. Cheers!

  21. Wendy Crowther

    The most dangerous thing we do in our lives is to take a drive in our cars. Yet, on a daily basis, we pack our kids and our pets into our beloved automobiles and head out on the roads without a thought.

    To put things in perspective, in 2002, our chance of dying in a motor vehicle was 1 in 17,000. In comparison, our chance of dying from a dog bite in 2002 was 1 in 16 million. Among the many facts we’ve heard about coyotes recently is that many more people are bitten by dogs in a year than are bitten by coyotes. Therefore, I think we should all consider the math.

    We feel “at home” with driving, and rarely, if ever, consider it dangerous or lethal enough to stop. Yet, oddly, it’s the coyote that has become the great focus of fear.

    To react to coyotes with trapping makes as much sense as would locking our cars in the garage and throwing away our keys. Later, if we change our minds, at worst, the car ends up with a dead battery. As for the coyote caught in the trap, there’s no jump-starting.

    Thank you to Mr. Wiese, Mr. Fowler, and Dr. Beckoff for your important perspective. Like them, I encourage everyone to get outdoors. Be awed by nature, not addicted to your screens. Be careful when you drive, not terrified of coyotes. And lastly, remember that nature is brilliant – it self-corrects if given the chance. One of the best things we can do is to not get in its way.

  22. Walter Ginter

    As a newcomer, I have only lived here 30 years, it amazes me when my fellow expats from NY try to change the things about Westport that made us move here to begin with. Nature is part of the reason we came here.

  23. Wendy is correct….driving in Westport with all the large Range Rovers and other Battlewagons on the road while people text away is far more dangerous then any coyote. Kids today are over protected and the parents are undereducated about the great outdoors. Spend sometime visiting some of the wonderful preserves both the ALT and the Naure Conservency have in our immediate area and participate in some of the wonderful lecture series and kids programs. You may just learn something and put your ignorance and unwarranted fears regarding coyotes and other flora and fauna to rest for good.