After months of controversy, a protest held near Deep Point Marina, a letter-writing campaign and multiple posts on social media, the Village of Bald Head Island has decided not to trap and cull coyotes this winter, an official said.

Coyotes - considered an invasive species - live in all 100 North Carolina counties. This past summer, for the first time, they caused significant predation of sea turtle nests on Bald Head Island. Although it was a banner year for loggerhead sea turtles, monitors reported coyotes ate or destroyed more than 2,000 eggs – about 12-percent of the total. The damage occurred despite stepped-up patrols, hazing and enclosure of nests with wire cages.

The Bald Head Island Conservancy’s mission includes protection of sea turtles, and officials there asked the Village government to trap and euthanize coyotes for about a week this winter. The decision, said Conservancy Director Chris Shank, was difficult but also based on the best available science.

The backlash spurred on going discussions on at least two Facebook pages dedicated to Bald Head Island. Letters to the editor against the plan appeared regularly in The State Port Pilot. On December 15, 2019, opponents staged a protest along the road to the mainland ferry for Bald Head at Deep Point Marina. They held signs, gave out flyers and demonstrated the use of metal leg-hold traps they said were not only cruel but could endanger non-target wildlife or pets.

Opponents’ basic point was that residents of Bald Head could learn to live with all wildlife without a targeted campaign to cull coyotes.

The discussion in some ways mirrored previous debate about controlling the white-tail deer herd. After several seasons of culling the herd with sharpshooters or archers the Village, with the cooperation of the Conservancy, began trapping and sterilizing some of the island’s does to keep the numbers in check. That experiment is continuing.

Village Manager Chris McCall said officials would continue to listen to the public and the Conservancy. They have also begun discussions with the nonprofit group Project Coyote, whose members have agreed to help research ways to solve the problem. Coyotes are smart and resilient, and thinning their numbers can result in increased breeding by those left behind. The issue is further complicated by the fact that, except for a narrow sliver of sand more than 10 miles long, Bald Head is an island.

McCall noted that three of the council’s five members are “new” to the issue, having been elected or appointed since late fall.

“It does not look favorable for the Village to do any sort of trapping this winter,” McCall said. Council does want to look at the larger issue of wildlife management, including coyotes, at its annual planning retreat set for February 25.

Town staff and Conservancy scientists will continue studying the issue, said McCall.

“We are still working on cage redesigns and trying to find funding for the work and materials, as we have been doing since last year,” Shank stated.

“That’s wonderful … and reassuring,” said resident Sandra Gleich, who has openly asked the Village to reconsider culling. “That’s good news. At least they are making an overture. People will appreciate being able to stand still and take a deep breath.”

Francesca Slaughter, who helped organize last month’s protest, said the decision pleased her.

“If Bald Head Island needs volunteers from the mainland (to assist with turtle monitoring), I encourage them to reach out,” she said. “I believe people from the mainland will work because they care about the turtles and the coyotes … I think a lot of people would step up, knowing that they are doing the right thing.”