Ministry urges co-existing with coyotes
A coyote. (Postmedia Network files)
When people call to complain about coyotes, the Ministry of Natural Resources advocates learning to live in peace.
The MNR doesn't track coyote population, but although members of the public might believe the numbers are increasing, it's more likely coyotes are just being seen more often, driven out in the open as their natural habitat is destroyed by development, says ministry spokesperson Odette Rittner.
"We ask the public to co-exist," she said. "Niagara-on-the-Lake has had a huge development boom. Coyotes are having to find new places to live."
Coyotes have a role in the ecosystem, she added. "They help keep little vermin down and keep them from eating grapes vines - they're all part of the food chain."
The issue of hunters co-existing with rural residents is not as easy to solve.
It's coyote hunting season all year long in NOTL, Rittner said.
"If you have hunters in a field nearby, you might not like the fact that neighbours have given them permission to be on their property, but if they are licensed and abiding by the rules, they're there legally."
What is not legal, she says, is hunters with loaded guns shooting from a truck or ATV .
And if public safety is a concern, she encourages the public to call the Niagara Regional Police.
Celine Loguasto lives on Concession 7 in NOTL, in a rural neighbourhood that seems to attract coyotes and hunters.
It's not the coyotes that are causing problems, she said - it's the hunters.
"If they say they have permission (to be on private property) there's nothing we can do. They're not doing anything wrong," she says.
It doesn't seem to matter if there are kids at a bus stop or migrant workers in the field, "they're still doing every legally."
And even if they are not playing by the rules, such as shooting from their trucks, by the time the police or MNR show up, it's too late - she's tried calling for help.
"They have to catch them in the act. "
Loguasto lives on a large rural property of 15 acres, and raises and trains dogs on a portion of it. She worries about the safety of herself and her dogs, but it's not practical to fence or post no trespassing signs on a property of that size, she says.
"I've been out walking with my dogs, and asked hunters to get off my property. I've been told by them that they're doing me a favour. I used to love winter and snow, but now I hate it, because I know what's coming. They're a nuisance, and a huge safety issue, but we're never going to stop them."
Some NOTL town councillors have been receiving complaints from residents who don't like seeing hunters near their rural properties, and are asking for help to stop them.
“(Hunters) walking on Line 6 with rifles slung over their shoulders makes some people nervous,” Coun. Martin Mazza said at a committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday.
He said he has been receiving calls from residents living in rural areas who are concerned about the situation, and he wondered what he should advise them to do.
Town clerk Holly Dowd said the town only has the authority to issue licences for hunting pheasants and rabbits, not coyotes. However, acting chief administrative officer Sheldon Randall said if residents see hunters with guns on public roads or on their property, they should call the police.
“It’s happening on our roads and our residents are concerned,” said Coun. Terry Flynn, who advised calling 911 if infractions are observed.
A map of hunting boundaries, last updated in 2008, is posted on the town’s website under the licensing section along with a link to the Ministry of Natural Resources regarding regulations.
The map shows most of NOTL is open to hunting, with the exception of a few areas - St. Davids and Queenston, a swath on either side of the Niagara River Parkway, in the Old Town, Garrison Village, and along Lakeshore Road to the Niagara Lakeshore Cemetery.
Aaron Oppenlaender, a grape grower and a hunter, thinks it's the coyotes, not the hunters, who are the nuisance. He sees too many of them in the vineyards, and believes it's safer for humans and pets, and better for the environment, to get rid of them - he thinks the coyotes, which eat other wildlife, will take over without control of the population.
He hunts deer, wild turkeys and ducks as well as coyotes on his own property in Queenston.
Oppenlaender didn't grow up hunting, he got into it with the help of friends, and says he has a mentor who has taught him what he needs to know to hunt responsibly and safely.
His father, who is a birdwatcher, often goes out with him, taking binoculars instead of a gun
He thinks hunters "get a bad rap" because of a small number of poachers, those hunting without licences and on property where they have no permission to be, but most, he believes, are hunting perfectly legally. A lot of farmers are happy to have them hunting on their land, he says.
If he saw hunters on his property without permission, "I'd definitely kick them off," he said. "That's breaking the law."
But a bigger problem, to him, are the people who will pull over in their vehicles, walk onto his property and start yelling at him because they don't like to see him hunting.
"That's dangerous for everybody," he says.
He eats most of what he kills, with the exception of coyotes.
"Duck, turkey, deer - there's nothing that tastes better. Why is that any different from buying meat at the grocery store?"
But it's not so much about the meat, as about the hunt, he says.
"I enjoy the hunting aspect. I love the fellowship with friends, I like the preparation, scouting out land and water, and learning from the experts. Most people I talk to about hunting think it's awesome, not the killing but everything else you need to learn. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of patience."
With files from Suzanne Mason