US Fish and Wildlife Service Parker River Wildlife Refuge: Learning and Passing On
My passion is to become a wildlife biologist to help reverse the catastrophic population decline of large predators through rewilding projects. I recognize the critical role that large predators play in maintaining healthy ecosystems and aim to educate the public on their importance and work with governments to reestablish their former ranges.
In 2013, as a freshman at Newburyport High School, I joined the Gulf of Maine Institute (GOMI), which fosters youth-led initiatives in the United States and Canada to protect the Gulf of Maine watershed. As a member of the Newburyport GOMI Team, I helped initiate positive environmental change through involvement in local team and collaborative partner projects, community education, and government. Starting my sophomore year, I began my search for a predator-based GOMI project on which to volunteer. I did not immediately succeed and encountered many dead ends and detours. In February 2016, I met with Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Manager Bill Peterson and we agreed to use scent stations and camera traps to monitor areas of the refuge for coyote activity since these methods do not require a permit. The project evolved into a first semester Wildlife Biology Internship for school credit my senior year. I arranged the internship myself through my contacts at the Refuge; it was not previously available at Newburyport High School.
I began the internship in September 2016, using my camera trap footage to analyze common times the coyotes visited the stations and to identify and observe species that thrive in coyote territory. I captured my first coyote on camera in December, a male. He was an impressive size with many wolf-like markings on his coat. Contrary to his appearance, he was extremely shy and wary around the cameras. He was only captured on camera twice during daylight hours.
Female coyote captured by camera
I captured a female in mid-February 2017 and confirmed that the two were mates two days later. The female is both more comfortable around the cameras and willing to eat the bait than her mate. The male began eating the bait in June after watching his mate safely consume it.
A bit more camera shy Male mate
Since first observing the pair together, I had been excitedly hoping they would have pups in the spring. Once April arrived, I saw the female frequently and the male only once a month. I assumed that pups were unlikely since I believed that a nursing female would be absent from the cameras. However, I was pleasantly surprised in June with camera footage of two pups.
Other animals I captured on the cameras include deer, rabbits, raccoons, fishers, mice, woodcock, and various songbirds. Deer were absent from the stations from December to April, likely to avoid the winter storms that weaken them, making them vulnerable to coyote predation. No foxes were captured, likely because the coyotes chased them out of their territory. Fishers and raccoons remained because they can climb to escape. Coyotes benefit from the fisher population since they prey on porcupines, a significant mortality risk for coyotes.
In late April, GOMI Team member Noah Keller and I presented the research findings at the Bresnahan Elementary School’s annual STEM Exposition. We educated second and third graders about the project using camera trap footage, animal skins, and footprint casts. In July, I presented my project entitled “The Eastern Coyote: A True Survivor” to the Newburyport community at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. I enjoyed the opportunity to educate the public about the coyote’s history, behavior, and important role in maintaining the health of our local ecosystem.
It has been an amazing experience studying these animals. Coyotes are one of the most persecuted and misunderstood predators and my research helped document their social and charismatic nature. They keep deer and rodent populations in check, preventing the spread of diseases and increasing crop yields. Coyotes are particularly important to the Newburyport area because they are vital to maintaining bird diversity by decreasing populations of mesopredators such as foxes, raccoons, and cats. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge provides key habitat for migrating and nesting shorebirds that attract birders to the area. The Plum Island coyote pack indirectly supports income from bird ecotourism.
Bob cat on the prowl
This project has provided valuable experience integral to the wildlife biology profession and helped prepare me to assist in similar projects while in college. Camera traps provide vital data by surveying wildlife populations and are much more cost effective than radio telemetry. Fortunately, GOMI is committed to the project. I have trained GOMI members Kendall Woods and Bailey Fogel to use the camera traps to continue documenting the pack’s activity.
Dominic Noce is a first year student at the University of Montana, and has chosen to major in wildlife biology. As a high school student Dom was an active member of the Gulf of Maine Institute’s Newburyport, MA team. During his senior year, Dom tapped into GOMI’s partnership with the Parker River Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, MA, and submitted an internship project to study the refuge’s coyote population to Bill Peterson, Refuge Manager. Bill agreed to engage Dom in a study of the Refuge’s coyote population. The study of large predators is Dom’s passion, so this internship was a windfall for him. The article is a direct result of his involvement in that study.
GOMI wishes to thank Refuge Manager Bill Peterson for providing Dom the opportunity and the support to conduct the study and for the Refuge’s long-term and varied support in conducting many related stewardship events.