Johnston residents received a crash course Thursday night in understanding coyotes and how to discourage them from coming into neighborhoods.
"They really aren't the big bad wolf as some think," Jeff Swearngin of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources told about 50 residents during a community meeting at Summit Middle School.
The city of Johnston hosted the community meeting as a way to educate residents on coyotes and ways to avoid them. And a coyote on the leash attended the meeting, hiding behind the wildlife specialist that brought the animal to illustrate how skittish they are.
The meeting was a response to an increase in the number of coyote sightings near Summit Middle School.
"It's an important issue for us," Johnston Police Chief Bill Vaughn said. "For some of us it's a safety issue for children and pets, for some it's a conservation issue."
Vaughn said officers will respond to any sighting called into the police department. If the animal is menacing, officers are to take appropriate actions.
"We want to be very safe, and very deliberate," Vaughn said of not shooting the animals to control their numbers.
Swearngin and Ron DeAarmond, CEO of the Pella Wildlife Company, were on hand to help residents better understand coyotes.
"They have been here in the community all along," Swearngin said. "The community moved out, and the animals have reduced space. They have adapted to live around you."
Both Swearngin and DeAarmond emphasized that coyotes are not a threat to humans.
"They are scared off very easily, they don't like to be around people," Swearngin said. "They are really not an animal to be that scared of."
DeAarmond told residents that coyotes generally eat mice, squirrels and other rodents.
"The reason we live in Iowa is we have a great opportunity to enjoy wildlife around us," he said, pointing out that Saylorville and Red Rock lakes are close in proximity.
DeAarmond said to discourage coyotes from entering yards, residents should not leave any cat or dog food outside and leave a porch light on.
The best option for keeping coyotes away from homes is hazing.
"Hazing is very simple," he said, of a technique to discourage coyotes. "All coyotes want to do is sleep, eat and make little ones. If you see coyotes, throwing something is an option, yell, whistle, make noise."
The fact that coyotes are afraid of noise and people is one reason they shouldn't be a threat near the city's schools.
Tim Kline, Johnston School District building and grounds director, said the first day the district found out about sightings near Summit and Horizon Elementary that students were kept in during recess.
"We wanted to be educated on the issue," he said. "As we got educated, we decided it would be safe because the coyotes are afraid of the students. We informed staff that if they see a coyote to make noise."
Kline said he hadn't heard of any staff seeing a coyote near the school during the day.
Swearngin said using traps could be an option, but there use is discouraged.
"The problem is they are non-specific," he said. "They will catch a coyote, but they will also catch a dog or cat running lose."
Swearngin said he would expect the coyotes in the area to be gone shortly as they disperse when leaving their families.
Allen Hentscher of Johnston said he hasn't seen a coyote firsthand, but his wife has.
"My five-year-old said she saw a werewolf," he said.
Hentscher said he wasn't overly concerned about the coyotes in the area, since he grew up being advised about them and seeing them.
"What I'm hearing is that coyotes can be managed with noise and leaving lights on," Paula Dierenfeld, Johnston mayor said. "They will learn they aren't welcome. If we use the technique (hazing) they will catch on and won't want to be there."
Dierenfeld and Vaughn urged residents to contact the city if they have concerns.
Vaughn encouraged residents to sign up for the police department's e-alert notifications for updates on the issue.
The department provided several resources for additional information on urban coyote populations: