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Coyotes Plentiful in Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough

With ample shelter, forage - primarily your pets - the adaptive, tenacious predators are here to stay.

A pilot called the Clearwater Airpark terminal in February with an unusual problem: He couldn't land because coyotes were encamped on the runway.

"He had to fly around until (workers) could go out there and run them off," said Gordon Wills, Marine and Aviation Department operations manager for Clearwater.

That proved to be easier said than done, recalled Clearwater Airpark general manager Barbara Cooper.

"I thought they would be skittish, but they just don't move," she said. "We had to take a pickup truck out there to run them off."

Cooper, who has worked at the airport since 2004, starting noticing what appeared to be "big dogs - on the German Shepherd-looking side" - slinking about wooded areas north of the runway near The Landings golf course in 2010.

They were elusive, shadowy sightings at first. By January and February, however, coyotes were comfortable enough to bask in the sun on cold days, she said.

"We were seeing them three, four times a day, traveling around four at a time," Cooper said.

As the weather warmed, the runway sightings slackened, she said, but coyotes remain a common sight.

In fact, Cooper said, a coyote was seen May 23 along the golf course fence and, last Thursday, a fuel lineman told her he saw a coyote out at a dumpster last evening when he was emptying the trash.

It's not surprising that Clearwater Airpark would prove suitable habitat for coyote.

According to Tim Smith, regional manager for Animal Action Trappers in St. Petersburg, all coyote need is "shelter and a food source" to thrive.

In Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties, "greenbelts, watershed areas, golf courses, and parks" provide ample shelter, he said.

Food is also abundant.

"The feral cat population is out of control - and it is a good food source for coyotes," Smith said.

The result: Coyotes are everywhere in the region, "from a 2,000-acre ranch in Pasco (County) killing livestock to the completely urban environment in St. Pete."

GROWING PRESENCE

Coyotes are not native to Florida - at least not since the Pliocene Epoch, approximately 12 million years ago.

In 1983, they were reported in 18 counties in the state; by 1990, in 48 counties; in the last decade, all 67 counties. They've been sighted in the Tampa Bay area since the 1970s.

Their growing presence in Florida is part of trend across North America as coyotes migrate east, gradually assuming the predator role vacated by the extinct red wolf.

There is, however, debate (see ) about whether coyotes seen locally are the iconic balsa-boned songdog of the American West, or a "coydog" hybrid, or the Eastern coyote - a pack-hunter that resembles a German Shepherd, weighs up to 80 pounds, and, some biologists contend, is a hybridized wolf that emerged from northern Ontario more than a century ago, and has been steadily migrating south ever since.

Smith manages five state-licensed trappers and technicians who handle nuisance animal calls from Hudson south to the Skyway Bridge. "There are not many places in our territory that we don't see coyotes," he said.

Pinellas County hot spots include wooded areas around Walsingham and Taylor parks in Largo and even much further south he said.

"I've seen one on 8th Avenue South in St. Petersburg," Smith said.

Most of Pinellas is suitable habitat for coyote.

"They're even on the beaches and on the barrier islands now," said trapper David Robert Lueck of St. Petersburg. "That would have been unheard of 10 years ago."

Lueck said coyotes are frequently seen from Sand Key to Treasure Island, south to Pass-A-Grille Beach, and in Ft. DeSoto County Park. They are also in Lake Seminole Park and in War Veterans Memorial Park at Bay Pines, he said.

Draw a line east from the beaches through "mid-Pinellas County" to Brooker Creek County Preserve north of Tampa in Hillsborough County, Lueck said. Wherever there are neighborhoods mixed in with "big woods" along that line, he said, you'll find coyote "clusters."

Pinellas County Animal Control operations manager Gary Andrews said in 2009 his department created an interactive map that allows people to log and describe coyote sightings.

From Jan. 1 through May 19, more than 160 coyote sightings in the county had been documented on the map, he said.

Hillsborough County, too, are increasingly spotted in rural area including Dover where a woman reported two of her cats killed by coyotes and a farmer reported his chicken coop ransacked and chickens killed.

Further south, there have been sightings along the Alafia River conservation lands through Lithia and at Alafia River State Park.

Lueck said coyotes aren't hard to find in Pasco County, either.Ā 

"Pretty much pick a neighborhood on (county roads) 54 and 52 and they're there," he said.

Other hot spots include Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Area, the area east of Wesley Chapel along U.S. 41, and large undeveloped tracts on Wiregrass Ranch.

"There are not as many west of U.S. 19," Lueck said.

Last fall, Chasco Middle School, Anclote and Gulf Highlands elementary schools, and River Ridge and Wiregrass Ranch high schools, had to repair fences breached or tunneled under by coyotes.

State-licensed trapper Michael Perez, of HHS Land Management in Land 'O Lakes, said there are "good-sized packs" of coyotes south of State Road 52 in the Conner Preserve, Congress Park, Cypress Creek Flood Detention Area, and in Wilderness Lake Preserve.

And their numbers are growing, he said.

"I think we are going to have a significant explosion," Perez said. "I think we'll be in trouble in about 10 years if we don't do something."

Web links:
Pinellas County coyote page:
htttp://www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices/coyotes/index.html

Pinellas County coyote-sighting interactive map"
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&source=embed&msa=0&msid=206688230441749338030.0004693eab513cad8a5b4&ll=27.941034,-82.718811&spn=0.289349,0.521164&z=11

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