EAST LAKE — Responding to concerns about increasing encounters with coyotes in East Lake Woodlands and other communities, Pinellas County has launched an information campaign to help residents deal with the problem.
"Coyotes are not domestic dogs," wildlife expert Jeanne Murphy said. "Coyotes are wild animals."
Murphy spoke Monday night at Crescent Oaks Country Club during a meeting of the Council of North County Neighborhoods, which has grown to represent 14,000 residents. The group's leadership is meeting with county officials monthly and tackling issues important to the people who live there.
Murphy, a consultant who was on county staff until her job was eliminated more than a year ago, said coyotes are about the height of a German shepherd, but the weight of a cocker spaniel. Coyotes can have wide variations in coat color.
They have a natural fear of people, she said, but they will lose it if we don't keep instilling it in them. "They become more bold," she said.
She suggests yelling, stomping feet, carrying a stick or cane, wielding a water-squirting gun.
Like all animals, coyotes need food, water, shelter and space, she said. They are very intelligent and opportunistic.
"In humans, we would call it an entrepreneur," she said.
They eat rabbits, rodents, carrion, raccoons, wild berries, fruits and vegetables in the wild, she said. They will also eat garbage, bird food, pet food, cats and small dogs.
Coyotes are territorial and if you have one in your neighborhood that's behaving well, you don't want to remove it, Murphy said, because a more aggressive coyote could replace it.
To keep the danger to humans from coyotes in perspective, Murphy said dogs bit 1,300 people in Pinellas County in 2008 and more than 20,000 people since 1995.
There has been no documented case of a coyote biting a person or a coyote with rabies in the county, officials said.
If you see a coyote, keep your distance and back away, officials say. Make it feel unwelcome without cornering it or confronting it directly.
But if a coyote poses an immediate threat to safety, a representative of the county Sheriff's Office said they will respond.
"If you need us, call us, we'll be there," said Deputy Ted Thompson of the community policing unit that covers East Lake.
Other issues covered at the meeting included an update on ballfields for the East Lake Youth Sports Association and status reports on the county's projects to widen Old Keystone Road and improve drainage in Tarpon Woods subdivision.
Ballfields: On Tuesday, Paul Cozzie, the county's director of culture, education and leisure, said the price tag for the facilities the youth sports association hoped to build on Old Keystone Road is too high.
The estimate came in at $9.6 million for four multi-purpose fields and two big-league baseball fields with lights, restrooms and parking.
The ground there would have to be elevated for fields, he said, and that's expensive.
"We're looking at some options," he said. "It wouldn't be anything more than practice facilities if anything."
Road widening: The Keystone Road widening project is moving ahead, Joe DeMoss, the county's project manager, said Tuesday. Well over half the 80 or so parcels the county needs to buy have been purchased, he said. "We're hoping to acquire all the property by Oct. 1," DeMoss said. "Our goal is to be under construction by the first of the year (2010)."
Drainage project: One part of the long-awaited Tarpon Woods drainage project will soon be under way, according to county officials.
Plans are nearing completion for a work order to install backflow preventers to prevent Brooker Creek from backing up into the subdivision through the storm drainage system. A contractor will buy valves and install them in May, the county estimates.
The next phase of the project, installing drainage outfall pipes, is in process. The consultant has submitted 60 percent of the plans to the county for review.
The county estimates work will start in early 2010 and be completed in about six months.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.