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Living with Wildlife

Vashon-Maury Island is a perfect storm for many human-wildlife coexistence issues, from large carnivore management to marine shoreline overharvest. With support from CREOi, Vashon Nature Center (VNC) created a Living with Wildlife program on Vashon-Maury Islands including: information resources to empower community members with knowledge about living with large carnivores and beach harvest rules and practices; and community science projects that involved local residents as active participants inlearning about our wildlife populations.

VNC created a Living with Wildlife pamphlet and Nearshore Resource guide and promoted them widely through the island’s neighborhood emergency response email lists (NERO groups), blog posts and social media. VNC staff helped in an advisory role for concerned islanders, connecting residents to contacts at local, state and federal agencies for both wildlife and beach concerns. VNC worked with island partners to offer a catio (outdoor cat enclosure) tour to encourage strategies that reduce pet-wildlife encounters. An informal analysis of posts by residents on the local social media site Vashon Predator Watch during the fall period of high coyote activity demonstrated a dramatic change between the year prior to and the year after the Living with Wildlife campaign: in 2018, 67% of posts were uninformed/reactionary and 33% were informed/neutral, while in 2020, 17% of posts were uninformed/reactionary and only 17% were informed/neutral. There is also now a local resident led group dedicated to nearshore management that is working with agencies to help solve overharvest and beach etiquette challenges.

The Living with Wildlife program included research using 35 wildlife cameras manned by 20 volunteers. Coyote data were shared with the Grit City Carnivore Project to provide a rural comparison to their urban camera transects in Tacoma. We are currently working with graduate students at the University of Washington (UW) Information Systems program to design a social media-based data storage platform for our wildlife camera photos that will better enable VNC research to sort and analyze photos, and volunteers to coordinate amongst each other, ask questions and access protocols.

VNC also partnered with UW researcher Dr. Laura Prugh, who used non-invasive genetic techniques to analyze 67 scats that were collected on Vashon Island from 2017-2020. From these scats, 23 unique coyotes were identified: 13 males, 8 females, and 2 coyotes of unknown sex. Genetic diversity was 2-3 times lower in comparison to populations in northern Washington, and substantial genetic differences from these “mainland” populations indicate that Vashon coyotes have remained isolated since colonization. To obtain a robust density estimate and stronger inferences regarding population genetics, researchers recommend (1) an intensive scat collection effort on Vashon Island, (2) genotyping of 2-4 additional loci or switching to a different genetic method (SNPs), and (3) collection of scats on the Olympic Peninsula for comparison to the closest source population. This pilot project demonstrated that Vashon Island’s coyotes are genetically unique, and further study may indicate the potential for problems such as inbreeding depression to arise, or for unique island adaptations to develop.