CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. (AP) — 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 former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham 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. Instagram and Facebook are replete with pictures of the canines scampering across sidewalks and among backyard playsets. Coyotes have even been spotted in New York City's Central Park and the Bronx.
Robert Greenstein, supervisor of the Town of New Castle, which has about 18,000 residents in Chappaqua, Millwood and unincorporated areas, said that in general, the debate is between two camps: "One group is concerned with protecting the coyotes and the other group is more concerned with protecting our pets."
The pet-protection camp, represented by the New Castle Coyote Management Task Force, argues for quicker use of "lethal solutions." Even though there have been no attacks on humans, they fear the skulking canines may start to attack small children.
"A menacing coyote, circling the playground, stalking children, that coyote has to go," said task force member Ann Styles Brochstein, whose Havanese dog Samson was attacked by a coyote in their 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 — and keeping pets on leashes — can help limit close encounters. In general, they would limit killings to coyotes that attack humans or leashed pets.
"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.
In the public meeting on the issue Feb. 10, the advisory committee gave its presentation. The absent task force submitted its presentation online. Both groups did extensive research, spoke with experts and appear to agree that coexistence is inevitable.
They differ, however, on the current effectiveness of "hazing" coyotes, or trying to instill a fear of humans by making a noisy commotion when a coyote is spotted. The task force says some coyotes have gotten used to such displays and pay scant attention.
New York's Department of Environmental Conservation would have to approve any shooting or trapping. Coyotes that are trapped are then euthanized rather than taken to another area.
The department's guidelines offer some perspective, noting that 650 New Yorkers are hospitalized every year for dog bites and that while coyotes kill cats, "so do foxes, dogs, bobcats, vehicles and even great horned owls."
Dan Bogan, a coyote expert who consults for the DEC, said, "We're never going to get rid of coyotes. They're not going anywhere. People aren't going anywhere either. Coexistence is the solution."
Greenstein said town board members are studying the proposals and will hold a public work session in the next month or two to discuss them.
His prediction: "That'll be Round 2 of the fireworks."
News researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.