They’ve aggressively surrounded residents leisurely walking their dogs. In a few cases, the wild animals stalked their victims, taking off with leashed pets, officials have said.
The usual methods of scaring coyotes off — or avoiding them altogether — hasn’t seemed to work. And using special traps has proven ineffective in other parts of the state.
As a last resort to address the growing presence of coyotes, the town of Nahant is fighting back with full force.
The Board of Selectmen voted this week to authorize an agreement with the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services that will allow agency officials to shoot and kill coyotes that are threatening the health and safety of residents in the seaside town.
The move, which has the support of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, will make Nahant the first community in Massachusetts to deal with aggressive coyotes through the partnership, using trained experts equipped with night-vision goggles, thermal-imaging scopes, trail cameras, and weapons with silencers to take down “habituated” animals.
“This is very much a public safety concern,” Town Administrator Antonio Barletta said during a Selectmen’s meeting Wednesday before the approval. “It is a reaction to previous behavior that’s occurred in Nahant, but it’s also an attempt to prevent anything worse.”
While officials acknowledged they can’t identify which coyotes are the problem, they will move forward with the program and “see if the aggressive or nonchalant behavior continues,” he said.
David Wattles, MassWildlife’s black bear and furbearer biologist, said that while bites are relatively rare, “the behaviors we’ve seen in Nahant ... constitute a public safety threat.”
“That’s why these actions are being permitted, to prevent a serious negative encounter from occurring,” he said.
The town will work closely with federal officials to “dispatch” — or kill — aggressive coyotes that have become too comfortable around humans, an issue that’s impacted communities across the state and led to people and pets being attacked.
In Nahant, the problem has become so pervasive that residents have created a Facebook page, called “Nahant Coyote Victims,” where people can raise “awareness around the escalating danger that pets and people face” and share their own encounters.
“Post topics range from remembrances of family pets that have been killed, coyote sightings, as well as how the coyote packs have negatively impacted the overall quality of life in Nahant,” according to the group’s page.
Some were pleased that Nahant officials had decided to take action.
“The Town officials are finally agreeing to do now what they should have done long ago,” the group posted Wednesday night. “It’s unfortunate that it took so long, and we are very sorry for all those who lost beloved family pets while waiting for the Town to take the proper action.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Barletta said Wildlife Services officials have visited Nahant and mapped out a designated wooded area in town — one that’s been deemed safe and away from the public — where they’ll try to lure the coyotes before killing them. The plan calls for the trained experts to eliminate coyotes during the night over the next few months, and will begin soon.
“The idea is to do it in the most safe way possible,” he said.
Town officials have spent substantial time trying to address the threat of coyotes. Before moving ahead with the new plan, they looked into hiring a “Problem Animal Control Officer” to try to trap the animals, or whether police officers could be tasked with killing them.
But Barletta said the only legal trap for coyotes in Massachusetts, known as a “box cage trap,” hasn’t yielded promising results. According to MassWildlife, he said, only three coyotes have actually been trapped in them during the last 10 years statewide.
As for leaving the job to police, Barletta said Wednesday it would be “a risky scenario and tough situation to put them in to attempt to shoot at a coyote.”
“This is not a reaction to a nuisance or general dislike of coyotes, this is a response to animals that are comfortable around human beings and not responding to the techniques that we’ve learned,” he said.
Selectman Joshua Antrim said Wednesday that specialists took “quite a bit of time and collaborative effort to put the plan in place,” studying Nahant via Google Maps and Google Earth, touring the town with the police chief and other officials, and identifying locations where coyotes are commonly seen and locations where “they could potentially perform this execution.”
“These are professional sharpshooters,” Antrim said.
Members of the board said the methods are considered “100 percent safe,” and will hopefully help. However, they warned that getting rid of some coyotes doesn’t mean the species will vanish from view.
“This doesn’t mean you won’t ever see a coyote; it doesn’t mean the coyotes couldn’t return to Nahant,” said Antrim, who called the decision a tough choice. “What it does mean is, hopefully we can get rid of these habituated animals,” the ones harassing residents.
The town will see if the new approach reduces the aggressive behavior before determining next steps.
“This is not a long-term plan. This is a stop-gap measure as I see it, to give us the opportunity to develop a solid plan to address these problems down the road,” said Selectman Gene Canty. “It will hopefully stop any attacks or injuries from occurring.”