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Alex Beam

They shoot coyotes, don’t they?

Apparently the answer is ‘no’ if you live in Greater Boston, where local and state officials shrug despite howls for action

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / January 10, 2012
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First thing we do, let’s kill all the coyotes.

Seriously, this lowbrow Man vs. Wild comedy has to stop. For at least a decade, coyotes have been carrying off household pets and threatening people all over Boston, notably in such posh, hair-trigger suburbs as Newton, Belmont, and Brookline. The city of Belmont’s website has a neat, interactive map that allows citizens to post coyote sightings. Let’s just say it looks as if there are a lot more coyotes in Belmont than Dunkin’ Donuts outlets.

The coyote tale is always the same. A frantic citizen has a close encounter with one of the state’s 10,000 coyotes. He or she appeals to the police, City Hall, the animal control authorities, the state wildlife gang, and always gets the same answer: Sorry, nothing we can do.

Last month the Globe reported the plight of Brookline’s Ann Tolkoff, one of several residents concerned about a family of four coyotes loping around the Corey Hill neighborhood near Coolidge Corner. Tolkoff and her neighbors want the coyotes evicted, but the solutions offered are either ineffectual or inane. Massachusetts won’t trap the coyotes because the Legislature banned “inhumane’’ body-gripping traps in 1996. So-called box traps exist, but they don’t work very well.

As in other towns, the Brookline authorities have suggested banging on pots and pans to scare away the coyotes, or - my personal favorite - playing recordings of growling cougars at high volume. Cue the Bose catamounts! In the town that banned spanking, I’m sure everyone wants to hear amplified cougar roars blasting from every apartment window.

Why not shoot them? The police carry guns, last time I checked. I suspect they know how to use them.

“That would have to be a last resort,’’ said Tolkoff, a spirited former schoolteacher who told me she last saw a coyote in her driveway on Dec. 29. Oops - change that. Thirty minutes after speaking with me last Thursday, Tolkoff called to say she just spotted a coyote up the street. “It was wearing a T-shirt that read ‘Alex Beam - please don’t shoot me.’ ’’

Ms. Tolkoff has a sense of humor, but her fear of coyotes is deadly serious. “This is not an acceptable situation for urban people,’’ she says. “I have three grandchildren, and I can’t let them sled down our driveway or play in our backyard.’’

My prediction: The first public official who takes out a firearm and blasts Ol’ Wile E. to kingdom come will immediately become a Massachusetts folk hero. If Senator Scott Brown starts lagging in the polls, here is what he should do: Put on the barn coat, get in the truck, phone Fox 25 News, and head for the wilds of Wrentham or any other coyote-infested Wealth-burb such as Wellesley, Weston, or Wayland. It’s a free media jackpot! The lawyerly Elizabeth Warren will be citing the state’s absurd statutes about protecting apex predators, and he’ll be nailing coyote pelts to the side of his garage while the cameras whirl.

There’ll be the inevitable tut-tutting from newspaper editorialists, but Brown wasn’t going to get their vote anyway.

Seven years ago, Michael Striar ran for mayor of Newton, on a kill-the-coyotes platform. He got 42 percent of the vote. Striar told me that one of his key statements (“If elected mayor next November, I can declare with confidence . . . that Newton will hunt down and kill the coyotes’’) was misunderstood. “I don’t advocate shooting them, and I’m very anti-hunting and anti-gun,’’ Striar said. “But the coyote problem has become much worse since 2005.’’

Times were, Americans knew how do deal with four-footed threats. Roughly 100 years ago, Recreation magazine solicited readers’ input on the “wolf question.’’ The many responses can be boiled down to two essentials: Poison ’em or shoot ’em. “The coyote, like the poor, is always around us,’’ reader Vic Smith wrote. In 1897, when Montana was offering a $3 bounty for every pelt, “I shot 37 coyotes in one week,’’ Smith reported. If the state raised the bounty to $10, Smith opined, it would “practically exterminate these animals in less than two years.’’

While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the Canada geese, too. There is a pond near my house where the vile geese and the occasional coyote disport themselves. I can see myself on the shore, Elmer Fudd-like, bwasting away at the wascally vawmints.

A man can dream, can’t he?

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.

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