A Department of Agriculture biologist shot and killed a coyote on Monday night in a Lake Forest Park neighborhood while it lay next to a carcass of a dead male sheep. The sheep had been killed by the slain coyote and three other coyotes on either Sunday night or early Monday morning.
Eric Gorbman, who owns the sheep, sent an email to neighbors Wednesday explaining what had happened, asking for support for the actions, and thanking several people for donations to shoot the other coyotes that in the USDA’s estimation have become territorial and dangerous.
“The intent is to take all four of those,” said Roger Woodruff, state director of the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division. “We’ll see how that goes. All four coyotes are engaged in behaviors that are a hazard to the local community, really. Particularly to the person who called us.”
The sheep were fenced in the front of the yard and on the sides but the back is blackberry bushes and brush where the coyotes apparently made their entrance.
The remaining sheep, two ewes and a lamb, as well as chickens, are now in a completely fenced in area. The carcass of the Gorbmans' prized ram remains in the pasture area.
"I was advised to leave it there," Nancy Gorbman, Eric Gorbman's wife, said. The carcass will likely cease to be food seven to 10 days after the it was killed, she said was told.
In his email, Eric Gorbman also claimed that the biologist’s visit was affected by “harassment” from a neighbor, apparently Michelle LeMoine.
LeMoine, who lives across the street from the Gorbmans, said she followed biologist Matt Stevens around the neighborhood Monday night while he was in his truck. LeMoine said Stevens asked her about her pets, but she was still concerned that not enough people in the neighborhood were visited before the coyote was killed.
LeMoine felt alternative options could have been considered to avoid killing the coyotes and cited the work of Project Coyote, a California organization founded by activist Camilla Fox, that promotes coexistence between coyotes and humans and alternative options to shooting them.
“I didn’t feel we had an opportunity to do that,” she said.
LeMoine helped organize a protest march on Wednesday night attended by about 10 people and invited KOMO television to film it for the 11 p.m. newscast.
Nancy Gorbman said she saw coyotes recently lying in the street near toward Grace Cole Park and the driver of van had to swerve since they didn't move.
She said she believes the coyote was killed as a last resort.
"I do not take this lightly at all I have great respect for animals and nature," she said.
Stevens and a representative from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife will make a presentation about coyotes at the Lake Forest Park City Council meeting at 7:45 p.m. on Thursday, July 28. Council members will have the opportunity to ask questions but a question-and-answer session for citizens probably won't come until later. For USDA's report on Washington wildlife go here.
Woodruff said that coyotes become problem animals in neighborhoods once they lose their fear of humans.
“Experience has shown over and over that you can’t unteach them,” he said. “They learn to kill pets and domestic livestock.”
Stevens came at the request of the Gorbmans, whose ram, known as Grover or Fat Boy, was killed while in their yard at 17725 28th Ave. NE in Lake Forest Park.
The Gorbmans told Stevens that they have had sheep for 20 years and had not had any previous incidents with coyotes.
The Gorbmans originally contacted Lake Forest Park Police on Monday morning, chief Dennis Peterson said, but the department has no authority to intervene in incidents involving wildlife and referred them to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which in turn told them to contact the Wildlife Services division of the Department of Agriculture.
Coyote sightings and interactions with people, pets and livestock are becoming common in Lake Forest Park and other urban neighborhoods in western Washington.
Some of the Gorbmans' neighbors say they haven’t had coyotes attack their pets, but Department of Agriculture representatives said they had reports from people that pets had gone missing and people walking dogs had been followed.
“That’s information we got that people were complaining about pets being gone,” Woodruff said. “In broad daylight, if coyotes in the neighborhood are not shy or wary of human beings, that’s a bad sign.”
USDA agents consider many factors before deciding to kill a coyote. The killing of the ram comes amid reports that the coyotes were no longer fearful of people, who may been feeding them or allowing them to get into their garbage or pet food.
Roger Woodruff, the state director of its Wildlife Services division, estimated that about 50 to 75 urban coyotes have been killed by the Department of Agriculture in the past year in western Washington.
“It’s been increasing; there’s been more problems and complaints,” Woodruff said.
Notes and flowers in memory of Grover the ram were placed on a fence at the Gorbman residence this week.
To protect livestock from predators, the USDA recommends bringing livestock into a barn or shelter at night, or installing electric or predator-proof fencing, or even having other animals, Woodruff said.
The Department of Agriculture makes one visit at no charge, Woodruff said, but it charges as much as $400 for each subsequent visit.
Coyotes are usually harmless and usually eat vermin, such as rats, so the killing of the ram and apparent lack of fear of humans is an exception.
The city of Lake Forest Park posted an advisory on living with coyotes on its Web site here.
Still, feeding coyotes and allowing them to go through trash and pet food is ill-advised and can result in them becoming a risk to pets and people, and the end result is that some of them may be killed, Woodruff said.
“The message is: keep wildlife wild,” Woodruff said.