A friend called the other day to tell me his dog had been killed by coyotes, right in his yard.

You have probably leaped to the conclusion that he lives in northern Maine. No. He lives on the ocean in Cumberland.

Now that they’ve eaten most of the deer in northern Maine, coyotes are moving south in search of food. People ask me if they should worry about their children. The only sensible answer is yes, of course.

Do a Google search for “coyote attacks on children” and prepare to be shocked. Here’s a typical report: A mom rescues her 2-year-old daughter while a coyote is dragging her from their California yard — the third incident of coyotes threatening small children in five days.

And 19-year-old singer Taylor Mitchell was killed by coyotes while she was jogging in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in 2009.

Wildlife biologist Gordon Batchelle in New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, reported that coyotes are adapting to our human environment with its abundant food and no threats.

National Geographic reported that University of California wildlife specialist Robert Timm has documented about 160 coyote attacks and dangerous incidents over the past 30 years in California alone.

“There is an increasing problem with coyotes losing their fear of humans and becoming aggressive,” said Timm.

National Geographic also presented a report from Cornell University wildlife biologist Paul Curtis, who described a progression of behavior by coyotes. First they are increasingly seen in daylight hours. Then pets begin vanishing from yards or are snatched off leashes.

“That’s the last stage before a human attack,” said Curtis. “And we’re at that stage in New York now.”

While these attacks are rare, they can’t be ignored or dismissed. In Maine, coyotes are feasting on sheep, dogs and cats.

My research found this suggestion: If “a coyote attacks you or someone near you, yell at the coyote to make it back off. Don’t run away since a coyote can outrun you — unless you can run faster than 30 mph!”

Not very comforting. Yet the possibility that sportsmen might get serious about reducing Maine’s coyote population remains controversial.

The new Maine Game Plan for Deer, created by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, calls for a significant program to reduce coyote predation on deer. The agency’s program calls for “targeted and focused coyote hunting” to encourage hunting where coyotes threaten deer in their wintering areas in eastern, northern and western Maine.

The Legislature may go further, adding trappers to the program and even extending coyote controls statewide. Because, you see, coyotes like dogs as much as deer, and they are causing problems from Caribou to Cumberland, Fort Kent to Fryeburg.

Animal rights groups oppose this effort, preferring their imagined world of “nature at peace.” They don’t dwell on the image of a deer, dragged down and eaten alive by coyotes.

Some wildlife biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife don’t support coyote controls, either.

Rich Bard, who works in Washington County, after an encounter with a coyote, wrote recently in his blog: “Funny, killing this handsome creature was the last thing on my mind. I don’t have a problem with hunting, especially for food, but a lust for blood and hatred of an entire species just makes no sense to me.”

It will be Bard’s job to implement his agency’s new coyote control program. I don’t suppose he’ll have much enthusiasm for it.

For years, sportsmen and some members of DIF&W’s wildlife staff have been shouting at each other about coyotes, while the deer herd disappeared.

“It’s coyotes,” shouted sportsmen. “No, it’s habitat,” wildlife biologists shouted back.

Turns out, it’s both.

Targeting coyotes near deer wintering areas where they do the most damage is sensible — and essential if we want deer to survive Maine’s tough winters.

Targeting coyotes where they are eating dogs and cats: well, that’s going to be up to you. Sportsmen will be there for you, if you want us to be.

Or maybe you can just yell at the coyotes when they show up in your yard. Just don’t try to outrun them.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmith [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.