Sub­ur­ban Americans fear coy­otes prey­ing on their pets

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

When Char­lene Warner walks her dog each morn­ing in her neigh­bor­hood in up­scale Seal Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, she’s ter­ri­fied she’ll be at­tacked — not by mug­gers or gangs, but by coy­otes.

“They are killing our an­i­mals. They are scar­ing us. I go out ev­ery morn­ing with rocks in my pock­ets, ten­nis shoes on, mace on my neck, a whis­tle on my neck and a foghorn on my leash, and I still don’t feel safe,” Ms. Warner said last week in com­ments be­fore the Seal Beach City Coun­cil.

She has rea­son to be ner­vous. Sto­ries abound in nearby Orange County of dogs and cats snatched off leashes and plucked out of back­yards a few feet away from their hor­ri­fied own­ers. Man­gled pet car­casses turn up on front lawns, of­ten iden­ti­fi­able only by their tails.

Ear­lier this month, a woman liv­ing in the Leisure World re­tire­ment com­mu­nity opened her screen door to pick up her news­pa­per, only to watch a coy­ote scam­per inside, grab her cat, and run back out. Another Seal Beach res­i­dent, Nate Kranda, started a memo­rial Face­book page for pho­tos of dead pets.

It’s not just South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. From Florida to Wash­ing­ton to Maine, com­mu­ni­ties are wrestling with how to han­dle the in­flux of a sur­pris­ingly fear­less coy­ote pop­u­la­tion. No­body knows whether the coy­ote’s num­bers are ac­tu­ally on the rise, but there’s lit­tle doubt that the adapt­able preda­tor is in­creas­ingly mak­ing it­self at home in ur­ban and sub­ur­ban Amer­ica.

“It’s spread­ing all across the United States now,” said Rex Baker, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Cal Poly Pomona, who’s done ex­ten­sive re­search on coy­otes. “You’re hav­ing less hunt­ing go­ing on, and ur­ban­iza­tion is con­tin­u­ing, and the coy­otes are show­ing up ev­ery­where.”

In ru­ral Amer­ica, the so­lu­tion is ob­vi­ous: Trap and shoot the varmints. In suburbia, how­ever, lo­cal gov­ern­ments are in­creas­ingly adopt­ing a “co­ex­is­tence” phi­los­o­phy pro­moted by an­i­mal rights groups that re­jects lethal con­trol in fa­vor of ed­u­ca­tion and be­hav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

When coy­otes get too close, groups like the Hu­mane So­ci­ety and San Fran­cis­cobased Project Coy­ote rec­om­mend haz­ing: Make noise, stomp your feet, wave your arms, shoot them with wa­ter guns, and throw things in or­der to teach the an­i­mals that hu­mans are dan­ger­ous.

“Haz­ing is just a way to re­mind coy­otes that peo­ple are some­thing they need to be wary of,” said Project Coy­ote wildlife ecol­o­gist Ash­ley DeLaup. “It’s some­thing that makes peo­ple seem un­pre­dictable again. Be­cause right now, we’re pretty pre­dictable.”

In Cal­i­for­nia, how­ever, haz­ing is fac­ing a back­lash from those who say the ruckus hasn’t stopped the coy­otes from feast­ing on their pets. A group called Coy­ote Watch is call­ing on state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments to quit re­ly­ing on in­di­vid­u­als to scare off the preda­tors and take a more ac­tive role in com­bat­ting the coy­ote in­fes­ta­tion.

Crit­ics of the co­ex­is­tence phi­los­o­phy cite a 2009 study in the Jour­nal of Wildlife Man­age­ment on coy­otes in Tuc­son, Ari­zona, that found 42 per­cent of their diet con­sisted of cats.

“Most of the city coun­cils and an­i­mal con­trol de­part­ments have been un­re­spon­sive in man­ag­ing the pop­u­la­tion lev­els of this unchecked preda­tor,” says the Coy­ote Watch web­site. “Some are ad­vo­cat­ing that we must co­ex­ist with this preda­tor, and that we should just chase after coy­otes bang­ing on pots and pans. But this ‘haz­ing’ pol­icy has not worked, leav­ing our chil­dren un­pro­tected and our pets served up as night­time meals.”

In Seal Beach the city coun­cil gave up on haz­ing last week, vot­ing 4-0 to hire a preda­tor con­trol company and be­gin the strate­gic trap­ping and eu­th­a­niz­ing of coy­otes.

“We learned about the ways to haze, we were ed­u­cated, we learned what to do about the coy­otes, and, as far as I know, we have all put them into place the best that we can,” Mayor Ellery Deaton said. “After that, when the spring came this year, the prob­lem was worse and not bet­ter.”

Project Coy­ote rep­re­sen­ta­tive Randi Feilich was one of the few to speak out against trap­ping at the packed meet­ing. She said other towns like Cal­abasas, Cal­i­for­nia, have had suc­cess with non­lethal con­trol, and noted that the Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil voted in April to ban snare traps.

“Did you know that, in March, the city of Los An­ge­les banned the trap­ping of coy­otes and an­i­mals? The whole city of Los An­ge­les. And we don’t see Los An­ge­les on the news right now with all th­ese peo­ple say­ing, ‘Let’s trap wildlife,’” Ms. Feilich said. “Trap­ping is not a long-term so­lu­tion, but rather very cruel and in­hu­mane.”

Robert Crab­tree, Project Coy­ote sci­ence ad­viser, ar­gues that not only are lethal con­trol meth­ods like trap­ping and shoot­ing un­eth­i­cal, they’re also in­ef­fec­tive, be­cause other coy­otes quickly fill the void left by miss­ing an­i­mals.

“In­dis­crim­i­nate killing of coy­otes doesn’t work. It never works in the long term,” said Mr. Crab­tree, who heads the Yel­low­stone Eco­log­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter in Boze­man, Mon­tana. “Even if you’re lucky and hap­pen to get the of­fend­ing in­di­vid­ual, which is ab­so­lutely almost un­val­i­dat­able, you may have a short-term re­sponse, and even then it’s un­eth­i­cal and is not eco­nom­i­cally jus­ti­fied.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Coy­otes have been en­croach­ing on sub­ur­ban and even ur­ban pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, where they of­ten feast on house pets.

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