Learning to live with coyotes in Southern California
Those coyotes in your area aren’t going away, at least not from the parks, preserves and other undeveloped urban habitats.
But you can help keep them away from homes and keep your pets safe.
“Widespread recognition that coyotes are here to stay is essential to achieving peaceful coexistence,” said Melinda Weaver, an urban ecologist at Loyola Marymount University. Weaver was one of several speakers at a three-hour webinar, “Coyotes in the Urban Environment,” hosted Friday, May 28, by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife along with the state Fish and Game Commission.
Exterminating the animals is not practical because of their ability to compensate for shrinking populations and because of opposition from environmentalists. But experts offered successful strategies for reducing conflict, and laid out a blueprint for expanding coyote management programs.
The workshop was prompted by a rising number of complaints as urban areas expand into wildlife habitats, and the highly adaptable animals increasingly locate food and water in neighborhoods.
But even as coyote sightings grow, some cities have been able to ease community anxieties.
In Arcadia, a city nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Deputy City Manager Michael Bruckner recounted two proposals to trap and killing coyotes. The first, in 2011, was scrapped after people protested against it. But complaints and coyote encounters continued to grow so, in 2017, the city again approved a trapping program. This time, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued and the city changed course, choosing instead to educate residents about coyotes and how to coexist with them.
Once coyotes identify a food source, they’ll keep coming around. Food sources include pet food, cats, unsecured trash, fallen fruit and compost. Fences aren’t necessarily a deterrent as a coyote can clear a 6-foot-high obstacle.
Arcadia held community meetings explaining this. The city also sent out fliers and newsletters, posted signs and handed out safety whistles for hazing, a practice of using noise to scare off coyotes. And residents were encouraged to keep their dogs on leashes and were educated about normal coyote behavior that they needn’t be alarmed about.
At the outset of the program, in 2018, the city received 211 reports of coyote sightings over a three-month period. But the number steadily declined and, by the final quarter of that fiscal year, there were just 57 such reports.
“The public seems to be better informed on normal coyote behavior,” Bruckner said. “That reduces fear, and reducing fear reduces the reports.
“Residents are more comfortable dealing with coyotes than they were several years ago,” he added.
“Coyotes are never going to go away, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in fear.”
Relocating coyotes and other fur bearing wildlife is illegal in California, so that’s not an option. Problems with relocation include the coyote’s ability to travel hundreds of miles back to its home range and the survival hazard of landing in another coyote’s territory. On the other hand, leaving a coyote in its natural home range can reduce that area’s rodent population.
But while coyote relocation isn’t legal, trapping and killing coyotes is. Torrance is among cities to employ that strategy. However, workshop speakers said that approach is usually ineffective because coyotes from neighboring areas move in to fill the void and that coyote fertility rates can increase when there is more food and territory available.
“Coyotes, in general, self-regulate their population based on local resources,” said Michelle Lute of Project Coyote, which helps communities develop non-lethal coyote management programs.
Another source for such assistance is Loyola Marymount’s Center for Urban Resilience. Eric Strauss, executive director of the center, indicated that his group had reached out to Torrance and got the cold shoulder.
Melissa Miller-Henson of the Fish and Game Commission said this is an instance where concerned citizens can have an influence.
“Residents of the communities need to engage city leaders,” she said.
They also need to engage one another, Lute said.
“If you have one person that’s leaving fruit on the ground — or open compost or pet food out — that can be all it takes to attract coyotes to a neighborhood,” she said.
Among those listening in to the webinar were a couple skeptics, one of whom complained that the scheduled speakers were all biased against coyote extermination.
“Coexistence with coyotes is impossible,” said another.
But the speakers held their ground.
“The conflicts with coyotes that end in violence are very rare,” Strauss said.
Jonathan Young of the Presidio Trust has helped oversee the coyote management program at San Francisco’s Presidio National Park, and testified to the success of such efforts.
“We’ve seen a lot more informed conversation by the public and a reduction of conflict,” Young said.
How to help
Among steps you can take to live peaceably with coyotes:
- Remove access to food from your yard, including cats, pet food, fallen fruit, compost and trash cans.
- Keep your dog on a leash outdoors and away from vegetation where coyotes could hide.
- If you see a coyote in your neighborhood, let it know it’s not welcome by making loud noise by yelling, blowing a whistle or banging metal objects. Maintain eye contact. Pick up small dogs.
- Find out if there’s a coyote management program in your city. A survey of Long Beach residents found that 70% were unaware that the city had such a program.
- Call 911 if you witness aggressive behavior. Also notify your city’s coyote program or your local animal services agency.