by Melanie Hill
Colorado’s Front Range is home to the western edge of the Great Plains and the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. It’s the best of both worlds, in my mind: to the east are big blue skies resting on top of wide open grassy plains, and if you look west you will find the impressive rock formations of the foothills. The biodiversity in this region is incredible- coniferous forests, big cottonwood trees, yucca plants, tons of colorful wildflowers, prickly pear cactus, an abundance of wildlife, and the list goes on.
These aren’t the only living beings that thrive here; the Front Range also contains the state’s largest cities and highest populated areas.
A variety of wild animals have adapted to the urban settings the Front Range provides, with some of the more commonly seen wildlife being squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, mule deer, numerous bird species, raccoons, skunks, and even foxes. As the Front Range cities continue to expand, we’re also seeing an influx of larger predator species such as black bears, mountain lions, and perhaps the most adaptive species of them all: the coyote.
A rise in urban coyote activity
Within the past decade, the number of coyote sightings – and conflicts – has steadily increased in the Front Range. In Denver specifically, the past 30 years of urban sprawl have brought on some incredible changes to the behavioral aspects of this species. A 2010-2014 study led by USDA National Wildlife Research Center scientist Dr. Stewart Breck found that coyotes were learning how to survive in cities by reading people. Our behavioral patterns, set schedules, traffic conditions, and the like are cues to coyotes about how to live next to, and avoid, human detection. Incredible, right?
Breck’s team also found that coyotes were relative newcomers to Denver; they colonized the city after it was built. And despite the hustle and bustle of people in nearby parks, residential areas, and business spaces, coyotes have no issues getting around.
His research provided some outstanding foundation, but a few questions still remained:
- Why did human-coyote conflicts begin rising in 2005?
- Why do we see more coyote attacks on the west side of the country than the Midwest and East Coast?
- How are coyote populations able to grow and thrive in cities over such extensive periods of time?
- What are the primary biological factors making coyotes so successful in environments?
- How have they been able to adapt to cities generally in timescales ~30 years or less?