NAHANT – The Board of Selectmen announces that on Wednesday, Dec. 7, members voted to authorize the Town Administrator to sign a Cooperative Service Agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services to conduct a cooperative wildlife management project. Nahant is the first community in Massachusetts to hire USDA Wildlife services to help dispatch habituated coyotes.
Wildlife Services professionals have trained rifle experts on staff, who also serve as instructors to train others. Wildlife Services is an extremely professional and safe program, which uses the latest technologies available for carrying out a safe and effective wildlife operation. Equipment includes night-vision, thermal-imaging scopes, and spotlights and all activities are permitted under special permit from Mass Wildlife.
This program will be conducted in coordination with Town officials and the police.
The Board’s decision seeks to address an increase in interactions between habituated coyotes and residents and follows detailed discussions with wildlife management expert Dave Wattles of Mass Wildlife.
“The Town of Nahant, like many other communities, has been dealing with habituated coyotes with multiple documented cases of aggressive behavior toward residents,” said Board Chairman Gene Canty. “Mass Wildlife has authorized our community to dispatch the problem coyotes but our legal options of ways to do that are limited, ineffective, and not practical.”
Coyotes that become dependent on human-associated foods can become habituated and exhibit bold and aggressive behavior toward people and other animals. Three times in the past year a coyote has taken a pet off its leash while under the control of its owner. It is believed that there are a dozen coyotes in Nahant, more than what Mass Wildlife considers typical for a one-square-mile suburban environment.
Most recently residents have reported being stalked or surrounded by coyotes while walking their pets.
The Town has been working closely with Mass Wildlife officials to educate residents on ways to prevent conflicts with coyotes and how to properly haze coyotes so they learn to avoid humans.
“Mass Wildlife officials have taught us that the focus of our response to an increased population of coyotes in our Town has to be education,” said Selectman Josh Antrim. “However, when coyotes become habituated and present a major significant public safety risk, we have to consider all legal means to eliminate that risk.”
The most common method to remove a problem or habituated coyote would be to hire a Problem Animal Control Officer (PAC) to attempt to trap the animal or have law enforcement attempt to dispatch the animal.
However, according to Mass Wildlife, the box cage trap, the only legal trap for coyotes in Massachusetts, has successfully trapped only three coyotes during the last 10 years across the state. Further, the density of homes on the Nahant peninsula does not provide for a scenario that would be safe enough for law enforcement personnel to discharge a firearm to dispatch a habituated coyote.
“As a board we have wanted to be thoughtful in evaluating response options, and in educating residents … this is not a knee-jerk reaction,” said Selectman Mark Cullinan. “We are hiring USDA Wildlife officials to help us get rid of the habituated coyotes in our Town and hope that this will prevent future conflicts.”
Town Administrator Antonio Barletta notes that news reports about conflicts between habituated coyotes and humans have become more common in recent years. In July, two people in Swampscott were bitten by a coyote in the same parking lot three weeks apart. In October, another Swampscott resident reported being surrounded by a group of coyotes while walking their dog. Around the same time in Hingham, a 10-year-old girl was reportedly chased by coyotes while walking her dog. In Arlington three people, two of them toddlers, were attacked by coyotes in different incidents. In August 2021, a small child was attacked by a coyote on North Herring Cove Beach within the Cape Cod National Seashore. Having habituated coyotes is not unique to Nahant and the difficulty managing these issues is felt by similar urban and suburban communities.
Town officials are advocating a legislative solution.
“When a Town is given authority to eliminate habituated animals but can’t because the tools to do so aren’t practical, the Town is put in a very difficult position,” Town Administrator Barletta said. “A long-term solution would be to pass legislation allowing humane traps and holds that are effective in capturing problem animals. Without a legislative change, communities like Nahant will be put in a position to consider the discharging of firearms to eliminate problem animals, creating one risk in an effort to eliminate another.”