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It’s coyote mating season in Massachusetts, and MassWildlife says household pets face a heightened threat

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
State of Massachusetts

Massachusetts is in the midst of coyote mating season, which stretches from late January into early March. That means the predators found across the commonwealth are more active and aggressive than ever. The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, also known as MassWildlife, says this period of the winter poses a heightened threat for dogs as coyotes eager to defend their territory and pack might target them as a threat. WAMC spoke with the agency’s black bear and furbearer biologist Dave Wattles about the dangers of actively breeding coyotes, last year’s record deer harvest, and the extension of squirrel hunting season in Massachusetts.

WATTLES: So, we are in the coyote mating season now and so this is the time where the mated pairs are actively defending their territories. Coyotes are territorial animals. They will actively defend their territories against other coyotes for the rights to mate and raise pups in their territory. And so, it's an active time of year where coyotes who aren't associated with the territory are moving around heavily, trying to find mates and establish territory of their own. So, it's a very active time of year for coyotes. It is also a time of year where we tend to see a peak in aggression towards large breed dogs. Coyotes don't distinguish between dogs as large as Labrador Retrievers, shepherds as they would another coyote in the territory. So, they perceive those animals as a threat. And unfortunately, they will act aggressively towards them this time of year.

WAMC: So, what advice is MassWildlife offering folks in the commonwealth about pets and just being outside in general with all this active coyote business going on?

It is certainly pertinent this time of year to keep your dogs on a leash. But that is our recommendation throughout the year, that if you supervise your dog directly on a leash, your presence on the other end of the leash should prevent any incident, any serious incident with a coyote where they're actually attacking your dog. 99% of the attacks on dogs in Massachusetts are dogs that are off leash on hiking trails or that are loose in the backyard. Quite often we get reports of attacks where someone let the dog go out to go to the bathroom, they're standing on the deck of the porch, near the back door, the dog is 20, 30 feet away, and a coyote comes out from nowhere and attacks it. So, really supervising your pets should prevent any kind of serious incidents.

What are ways for people to detect evidence of coyote activity in their area?

Yeah, in reality, even if people don't see coyotes around their homes, coyotes are found in every city in town in Massachusetts, including in Boston. So, certainly in the Berkshires. Coyotes are essentially ubiquitous. Really all available habitat is filled with territories. And so pretty much whatever town you live in in Western Mass, you have coyotes around your home, and so we would recommend taking the precautions to protect your pets.

MassWildlife says there was a new statewide record of deer harvesting in 2022. Tell me about that. What were those numbers looking like? And what is the impact on the ecosystem of Massachusetts from a record harvest like that?

We did break our record deer harvest. I believe it was over 15,000 deer taken in the state. The majority of those, or the majority of the increase, was in the eastern zones where we – you know, in the greater Boston suburbs – where limitations on hunting because of the high levels of development limit our ability to manage the deer population, so the population has gotten quite high in those areas. And over the years as the population has increased, our deer, record deer numbers have increased over time as well. In the Berkshires that we saw high harvest this year as well, maybe records in some zones. But overall, the greater access to hunting allows us to manage deer within our management goals where deer aren't having impacts on forest. One of the biggest issues associated with overly high levels of deer is the impacts they have on forests. So, they over browse, they remove the understory vegetation, which then impacts the ability of other species that are dependent on that vegetation to survive. So, deer can have a cascading effect on biodiversity when their populations reach too high a level.

Speaking of hunting, squirrel hunting season in Massachusetts has been extended into the last day of February. Talk to me about that. What is MassWildlife advising about squirrel hunting, and you know, squirrel meat may be an underappreciated delicacy in New England. What's your guide to actually using squirrel meat should you successfully hunt a squirrel?

I don't think squirrel hunting is the most widespread or popular, compared to, certainly, for deer hunting. But certainly, those individuals that participate in it, you know, do get a ready source of food from it. I think quite often people are creating, using squirrel meat and some of the smaller game in stews, in those type of things, just because there's not so much meat on an individual animal.

And what is your advice to hunting squirrel? Seems like a small target, and a quick moving one at that.

Yep. So generally speaking, people are using shotguns with small pellets in them that, similar to bird shot and those kinds of things, to take squirrels. And so, it's something that, if you're not experienced and, for all hunting seasons, we recommend that people know the areas that hunting in so that they can safely hunt squirrels in all areas.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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