Will a Dallas ban on wildlife feeding push coyotes out of neighborhoods?


After a coyote attacked a 2-year-old in Lake Highlands in May, tension between neighborhoods and city officials ran high. Now, the city of Dallas is considering a ban on feeding wildlife — a practice that officials say contributed to the coyote problem.

The ordinance is a reasonable step to help keep neighbors safe. But it will only work if the city holds up its side of the deal: educating neighbors and monitoring for new threats.

Coyotes menaced the White Rock Valley neighborhood in Lake Highlands for weeks this spring — alarming neighbors and prompting a nearby elementary school to shut down outdoor activities. After the 2-year-old was attacked, the city took decisive action. By the end of its high-tech coyote hunt, the city had captured four coyotes in total.

Then came the blame.

In the aftermath, a Dallas Animal Services Facebook post indicated neighbors had been petting and feeding the coyotes. Neighbors were frustrated. Many said they had warned the city about the coyote threat but received an underwhelming response. Dallas Animal Services disputes this.

We called on the city to restore trust with neighbors. City officials appear to have made progress on that front, but they should be careful to be collaborative, and not punitive, as they move forward with this plan.

Despite what the city’s finger-wagging Facebook post suggested, most wildlife feeding is probably an accident. The “problematic behaviors” the proposed ordinance targets — leaving exposed trash, overflowing bird feeders or outdoor cat food bowls — are mostly unintentional.

This exposed food can entice wild animals to make themselves at home in a residential neighborhood, according to MeLissa Webber, interim director of Dallas Animal Services. And when coyotes shed their instinctual fear of humans, Webber said, they become more likely to attack.

Webber said the proposed ordinance is modeled on similar policies in other communities with urban coyotes.

Because these behaviors are largely unintentional, city officials said they would initially focus on educating residents. This is the right approach. Neighbors should receive support and information first, not blame and fines.

Officials stressed that the anti-feeding ordinance is just one component of a broader coyote management plan. The city, for its part, plans to maintain a coyote hotline and a public database that tracks coyote sightings.

The success of the city’s plan will depend on communication and contact.

The city should coordinate an educational campaign, teaching neighbors the best coyote deterrence practices. And when officials receive reports of wildlife feeding, they will need to exercise judgment. Neighbors shouldn’t be punished for a first-time, accidental offense.

The coyote hotline and database will be important for monitoring new threats. The city will need enough manpower to make it possible.

The city’s earlier mistakes should serve as a cautionary tale. Officials must interact with residents in ways that help neighbors view them as allies in protecting their families from threats.

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