When the U.S. tried to rid its cities and rural towns of coyotes starting around the 19th century, the effort backfired. While coyote control programs — involving chemical poisons, steel traps and paid bounties — did in fact kill tens of millions of the species, the population only spread further out.
“They responded by taking over the entire continent,” says Peter Alagona, an environmental historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Coyotes can now be found in every state except Alaska, as well as in parts of Canada and Central America, and they’ve moved from the fringes of cities to urban backyards.
“You have to admire their grit and adaptability for being able to live in Arctic tundra, in tropical rainforest, in deserts and in places like, you know, the Bronx,” he says.
The resiliency of coyotes is recounted in Alagona’s 2022 book, The Accidental Ecosystem, which retraces the land use decisions that have, intentionally or not, allowed some wildlife species to proliferate across the the U.S. even after they’d been deliberately targeted to make way for cities. It’s not just coyotes and commonly sighted critters like squirrels black bears, foxes and even pumas have been spotted wandering the streets of crowded metro areas.
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