Brian Wood, 34, has lived with his wife and four children adjacent to the Santa Rosa County landfill for the past two years. He and his neighbors said they're having a problem with coyotes trespassing on their property. “Over on ‘Stink Hill,’” he said, a dirt hill on the landfill side of their fence, he hears at night what sounds like hundreds of coyotes, like packs have been released. Wood said he’s seen, in broad daylight, 5 to 10 per week in his yard. He pointed out two places the coyotes converted into makeshift dens, under an uprooted tree and an old refrigerator, less than a two-minute walk from his front porch. He also said they're crawling through a hole, possibly made by a bush hog, in a fence a few steps from the burrows, separating his property from the landfill.
Wood stepped over to a small shed near his home where he said he killed a coyote after the ice storm. He described the animal as mangy, due to the cold. Wood said as he approached the animal, the coyote advanced toward him aggressively, causing Wood to kill it with a shovel.
Wood said he lost a cat to a rabid coyote, and his neighbor, Bill Smith, said he lost a Chihuahua to a pack; as well as 11 of 16 chickens. Smith also pointed to some tracks on his garden, dirt plot less than 200 paces from his front door. He said it looked like the animal was making its way to his garbage cans.
Wood said he and his family and several neighbors are worried the coyotes will go from killing pets and disturbing gardens to biting a child.
Wood and his wife said their children’s bus stop is near the house and they don't let them play far for fear of getting too close to a coyote. Wood's stepson, Joshua, 8, said he saw one cross his path while out riding his four-wheeler near the house.
Wood's father, who had two small dogs tied near the house, said "hot lead" is the best solution to the coyotes. Brian Wood's concern with shooting the animals would be the surrounding neighborhoods and workers in the landfill. Mary Beverly, Santa Rosa County Health Department said she was concerned about a claim of rabies in the area, although she had not received any calls of rabid coyotes. She said she suspected the case of Wood's cat dying was not due to rabies but one of another few diseases with symptoms that mimic rabies. Beverly said she called Wood about his cat and he had found bite marks near the tail of the cat. It died last Saturday, but was never tested or taken to a vet. Beverly said if an animal tested positive for rabies, humans in the surrounding area would receive vaccinations and the control of an animal in question would transfer to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) or Santa Rosa County Animal Services (SRCAS).
She also said coyotes are at higher risk, to rabies because they are carriers. She said residents should keep pets indoors and make sure not to leave food sources outdoors. However, she also said the landfill is an attractant to them.
Ronald Hixson, business manager at the Environmental Control Office, said a few employees have reported seeing the animals on site. Until recently, he said the problem was unbeknownst to his department.
Stan Kirkland, regional operations manager, FWC, at first said he was unaware of the problem at the landfill. Since they're not a protected species, he said, citizens are free to destroy or trap coyotes. Kirkland said coyotes rarely attack people and in Florida there were only one or two bites recorded. He said "to put that to rest," referring to fears anyone would have of being attacked. In both cases, he said recorded incidents resulted from pet owners getting between a coyote and a pet. Kirkland said, "If I had pets, I can't offer any help beyond suggesting trappers. I would research about killing them with a shotgun and birdshot," so residents would not have to worry about bullets getting close to other neighborhoods. He went on to say in the month of February only eight calls were received about coyotes and were from the Crestview area.
Brad Willnecker of the Southeastern Dog Hunter's Association said of the 800 plus hunters in his organization, a majority have noticed a swell in the coyote population. Kirkland said these observations are likely true and unreported, but nobody knows the actual numbers. Willnecker also said hunters began to notice a rise in coyotes around the time Florida banned fox pens.