Patti Aanenson doesn't remember seeing coyotes on the farm when she was growing up southwest of Larimore, even though her dad raised sheep.

It's a different story today, Aanenson said. She and her husband, Gene, live on the same farm where she grew up, and coyotes are common.

"I would say it's within the last five to seven years that we have really noticed an increase," Aanenson said. "At first, it was just hearing them in the distance, and now it just seems they get closer and closer. We have had them probably within 30 yards of our back door."

The usual routine will go something like this: The coyotes will come into the yard just beyond the range of the yard light. Their male golden Lab will start barking and scare them out of the yard, and the coyotes will return when the dog settles down.

Aanenson says she worries the coyotes will lure the dog beyond the protection of the yard and attack, but that hasn't happe ned.

Still, she finds the coyotes unsettling.

"It reminds me of 'Little House on the Prairie,' like I should be having a fire out there to keep them away," Aanenson said. "It's very eerie."

Two years ago, she said, a friend of her son's called and asked for a ride after having car trouble on a nearby rural road.

Coyotes were watching him, he said, and they were a bit too close for comfort.

"He was walking toward our house, and he called my son and said, 'Will you come and get me?'" Aanenson recalled. "He said, 'I see all these eyes out here.'"

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department doesn't extensively survey coyote populations, but the department does collect data from rural mail carriers, fur buyers and hunters and trappers, and looks for coyotes during winter aerial big game surveys.

Game and Fish Department officials in the eastern part of the state said coyotes definitely are becoming more abundant but they see no real cause fo r alarm.
"Most nights, I can hear coyotes at my house, and I kind of enjoy it," said Gary Rankin, a district game warden for the Game and Fish Department in Larimore.

Rankin said he's even seen coyotes standing in the ditch along U.S. Highway 2, watching the traffic.

"That's not typical for a coyote, but it's probably just a young animal learning about the world," Rankin said.

With a maximum weight of about 30 pounds, coyotes are much smaller than their canine cousins, the gray wolf, which can weigh more than 100 pounds. Coyotes occasionally travel in small groups, usually family units, but they don't have the pack hierarchy of wolves, so the risk to cattle is limited to calves.

Coyotes can cause problems for sheep farmers, and they'll take down a fawn or an unsuspecting pet cat or small dog, Rankin said, but he has had no reports of the animals becoming aggressive toward humans.

If anything, coyotes, especially small ones, are curious, Ran kin said.

"I know of several incidents where people walking with their dogs have had coyotes come up," Rankin said. "I think it's mostly curiosity. They'll follow a dog."

Rankin said he gets occasional calls about coyotes, but they're not frequent.

"We've got so little livestock in the area that the concern usually isn't related to people having damage done to their property," Rankin said. "It's more of a 'What are they doing to fawns?' That type of thing."

To avoid the risk of a conflict, Rankin said people walking their dogs should keep the pets on a leash or take other steps to ensure the animals don't make contact with coyotes.

Obvious as it may seem, people shouldn't try approaching a coyote, either, Rankin said.

"If they are visible and you can approach them, that isn't normal," he said. "Something is probably wrong there. There'd be a possibility they could carry diseases, but that's the same with any wild animal."

Rankin specu lates there could be several reasons coyotes have become more abundant in eastern North Dakota. The Conservation Reserve Program, a federal initiative that pays farmers to set aside land for wildlife habitat, has created more grassland and brush land areas for small mammals.

That, in turn, has created more food sources for predatory animals such as coyotes.

"When there's more prey species, coyote numbers are going to increase, and they have," Rankin said.

The banning of poisons to control coyotes likely has had an effect, too, Rankin said.

"That did just about wipe them out, especially in the eastern part of the state," Rankin said. "And over a long period of time, coyotes have prospered."

Phil Mastrangelo, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services division in North Dakota, said field staffers across the state have reported more coyotes each year, though the agency has done no surveys.

Mastrangelo said the highest c oyote numbers still seem to be in the central and north central parts of the state, and the Badlands.

"There are coyotes now in all the Lower 48 states," he said. "Historically, there weren't. That just shows the flexibility and adaptability of these animals. If you look farther east, there are ongoing studies in Chicago with coyotes living in city limits with radio collars on them."

Not every coyote is a bad coyote, Mastrangelo said, but landowners have a lot of leeway in dealing with the animals. They can contact USDA Wildlife Services and agencies such as the Game and Fish Department or take matters into their own hands.

Coyotes are fair game year-round in North Dakota, and landowners can remove problem animals without a permit, Rankin said. People hunting for recreation must buy a furbearer permit. Fur prices are not high enough to provide much of an incentive to trap the animals, he said.

"Even the people that hunt them, it's not a monetary thing, " said Game and Fish Department biologist Marty Egeland. "It's tough to control those animals by hunting. Coyotes are smart."

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