MURRYSVILLE, Pa. — In some parts of Murrysville, every time Bill Powers placed a tree-mounted camera, he could count on getting a photo of a coyote.
“Sardis Road and the northern part of Murrysville is where I’m guaranteed to get a photo of a coyote,” he said.
And while Powers has noticed more on his cameras, the medium-sized predators are not new to the region.
An influx of coyotes began moving into Pennsylvania from New York’s Catskill Mountains around the 1960s, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. With no natural predators, they have been a mainstay since.
During the 2015-16 hunting season, hunters killed more than 38,600 coyotes, according to game commission statistics. That number nearly doubled in a decade. About 20,300 were killed in 2005-06. A decade earlier, that number was about 6,600.
“From a trend perspective, we’ve seen a constant increase going back to about 1995,” said Samara Trusso, wildlife biologist for the game commission.
Today, coyotes are the only animal in Pennsylvania that can be hunted year-round, day or night.
Even so, they pose little danger to humans.
There have been only two fatal coyote attacks recorded: in 1981, a coyote grabbed a 3-year-old girl in Glendale, Calif., who later died of blood loss and a broken neck. And in 2009, two eastern coyotes mauled a 19-year-old woman at Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, according to a report by Field & Stream. They can carry rabies but typically avoid humans.
Whether they are a nuisance depends on who you ask, Trusso said.
“There is a tremendous number of people in Pennsylvania who don’t consider them a nuisance at all,” she said. “There are those, particularly in agriculture, who do consider them a problem.”
Between 2005 and 2015, the most likely domestic victims of coyote attacks were chickens (913), cats (283) and sheep (414), game commission numbers show.
That does not stop locals from openly worrying anytime a coyote is spotted.
Residents reported multiple coyote sightings in West Tarentum this fall; game commission officers killed one they said appeared to be ill. And a coyote attacked a resident’s dog in her backyard.
Fatal dog attacks are rare, however.
In the same 10-year period, only 31 dogs statewide were killed by coyotes.
Increased coyote sightings this time of year can be chalked up partly to juveniles – which at this point are about 6 months old – beginning to leave their family groups. Game commission studies have shown that juveniles can wander between 30 to 100 miles from family groups.
Despite tens of thousands of coyotes being killed annually in Pennsylvania, the regional population is doing just fine.
“There’s some research that’s been done in the west showing that eradication programs that had been pursued for some time were ineffective,” Trusso said. “That’s largely because of both the social and biological elements of coyote behavior.”
If a homeowner is having trouble with a particular animal, killing it can be effective in the short run, Trusso said.
“But in the big scheme of things, coyotes are very resilient, and those populations can rebound very quickly,” she said. “The coyote population in Pennsylvania is robust and healthy, and the harvesting numbers we’re talking about aren’t causing a decline.”