Upscale Suburb Embroiled in Debate Over Coyotes

A coyote crosses a snowy street in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Beth Nakamura)
A coyote crosses a snowy street in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Beth Nakamura)

This well-heeled hamlet north of New York City is embroiled in an increasingly nasty debate that seems oddly out of place amid the stately homes and tony boutiques: What should be done about coyotes?

Self-styled coyote spotters in and around Chappaqua have counted 160 incursions into backyards and streets over the last two years and at least 10 recent attacks on pets. That’s been enough to stir animal passions among residents over the question of when and if a coyote deserves to be killed.

Email and social media have swirled with such teeth-baring terms as “coyote jihad” and “death map.” And members of a local task force that advocates trapping and killing some of the animals announced they were staying away from a recent public hearing on the issue “in the interest of our personal safety.”

“I envisioned going down there and having blood thrown on me,” said task force member Joyce Stansell-Wong, who has since resigned.

Chappaqua, about 35 miles north of the city, is better known as the home of Bill and Hillary Clinton than as a playground for coyotes. But wildlife officials say the demise of such predators as wolves and cougars over the last few decades has led to a spread of coyotes into more populated areas across the East Coast, including suburbs. Coyotes have even been spotted in Central Park and the Bronx.

“A menacing coyote, circling the playground, stalking children, that coyote has to go,” said task force member Ann Styles Brochstein, whose dog was attacked by a coyote in her yard.

“Residents have had to alter their lifestyle significantly,” she said. “Taking out the garbage, grilling in backyards, walking children home from bus stops and the simple act of walking dogs have all attracted coyotes. They appear on porches and decks, looking through doors at children and pets.”

A separate group, represented by the New Castle Coyote Awareness and Safety Advisory Committee, is advocating more tolerance, noting that coyote attacks on humans are very unusual and that a little education can help limit close encounters.

“We must encourage responsible pet ownership and not penalize a coyote for taking a small dog when such an act is only doing what comes naturally,” said Victoria Alzapiedi, chairwoman of the advisory committee.

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