Jon Way ’97 champions the eastern coyote
It is dusk and Jon Way ’97 is stalking an eastern coyote on the residential road of a quiet Cape Cod village. His left arm pokes out his driver-side window, brandishing an eight-pound antenna. In his lap a receiver chirps steadily. Way has been tracking coyotes for 12 years, but he is hardly the dispassionate scientist. He is awed by their ability to adapt so perfectly to the suburban landscape, and to negotiate cars, roads, yards, and people. To him, it’s a crime that these social, intelligent, family-oriented creatures are targets for hunters.
Way heard the call of the wild as a Commonwealth Honors College student at UMass Amherst majoring in wildlife and fisheries biology. Background readings for his senior thesis revealed that few, if any, scientific studies had been done on eastern coyotes in the Bay State, and none about urban or suburban coyotes anywhere. He began advocating for the animals to be called coywolves when he learned that one-third of eastern coyotes’ genetic makeup consists of eastern wolf genes; roughly another third is related to coyotes but not found in any western coyote populations.
After UMass Amherst, Way earned a master’s degree by documenting the ecology of eastern coyotes in suburban Cape Cod, and then took a job at the Bronx Zoo. He returned to school to earn a PhD combining science and education. Now Way regularly tracks and records the movements of Cape Cod coywolves at night and in the early morning hours, fitting in his research around his job as a park ranger. He has published 30 scientific papers and a book, Suburban Howls, on his findings.
Way believes coywolves greatly benefit the ecosystem and are largely misunderstood and misrepresented. He advocates a hunting season that doesn’t interfere with gestation, a ban on baiting and attracting coywolves for hunting purposes, a bag limit that reflects the animals’ social tendencies, and above all else, for humane non-lethal treatment of these social animals to encourage them to stay away from people and pets.
His dream is to build a research and education center for coywolves on Cape Cod. Coywolves, he says, “have gotten a bum rap.”