Guest Opinion: Greg Stewart

Seventy-eight year Laguna resident shares an article he wrote which was published in OC 11-29-2018. Coyote interest and concern in OC is growing.

Here’s what he had to say on coyote-human conflicts which is relevant today.

Urban Coyotes In Laguna Beach

With Orange County urban coyote problems more frequently in the news and to get a better understanding of these events, maybe it’s time to take a look at the history/evolution of coyote-human conflicts in Orange County.

From the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s, as wildlands were being converted to agricultural uses in a mostly rural Orange County, coyotes were trapped, poisoned and shot by farmers, ranchers and others as killers of livestock and poultry. The surviving coyotes quickly learned to avoid direct human contact.

By the mid 1900’s, land use in Orange County began changing from humans living off the land to humans living on the land. As agricultural land started giving way to a more suburban less lethal environment for coyotes, Some coyotes soon learned that the risk of nighttime foraging into these new landscapes was a much less lethal and more productive strategy than their past encounters with armed farmers and ranchers.

Suburban areas with an almost inexhaustible supply of trash, pet food and small pets soon proved an irresistible new habitat for opportunistic coyotes living near our cities.

These new suburban coyotes, with little fear of people, soon learned to live in our cities, not just near them. In many cities, nighttime hunting was supplemented with increasingly bold daytime activities. With an ample food source, the number and survival rate of pups increased and populations soared to levels unsustainable in their natural habitat. These young coyotes were taught the art of urban foraging by their parents, who were now skilled at finding urban food sources, which sometimes includes our pets. We now have multiple generations of coyotes living amongst us, with no link to the remaining wildlands that are left in Orange County.

As these coyotes lost even more fear of people, they expanded deeper into our cities becoming more aggressive sometimes taking small dogs off the leash or attacking humans even in broad daylight.

Coyotes now can be found in most Orange County cities, not just those with wildland borders or those places still expanding into wild areas. Some suburban coyotes have morphed into urban predators, living tens of miles from wildlands, deep in some of our most populated areas of Orange County and Southern California.

Below is a list of predictable increasingly aggressive coyote behaviors prepared by Rob Timm, PhD, UC Hopland, CA and Rex Baker PhD, Cal Poly Pomona, CA. Unfortunately, some coyotes in many Orange County cities have already reached number seven on this list.

Predictable Sequence of Increasingly Aggressive Coyote Behaviors

1. Increase in coyotes on streets and in yards at nights

2. Increase in coyotes non-aggressively approaching adults and/or taking pets at night

3. Coyotes on streets and in parks and yards, in early morning and/or late afternoon

4. Coyotes chasing or taking pets in daytime

5. Coyotes attacking and taking pets on leash or near owners, chasing joggers, bicyclists, and other adults

6. Coyotes seen in and around children’s play areas, school grounds, and parks in mid-day

7. Coyotes acting aggressively toward adults in mid-day

Coyotes didn’t have to lose natural habitat to take advantage of our food rich unnatural environment. They will adapt to and take advantage of any environment that will sustain them. Urban coyotes seem to be better at learning to live with us than we are at trying to understand or control them.

Some of our relationship with urban coyotes is similar to our relationship with our pet dogs. Either the dog owners establish themselves as the alpha (dominant) member of the pack (family), or the dog will come to view itself as the alpha member of the pack. In many ways we have failed to exhibit dominant views toward urban coyotes. With many years of passive attitudes towards urban coyotes, why would anyone be surprised that some urban coyotes have developed an alpha attitude towards us, much like unruly, poorly trained pet dogs?

So the question seems to be after neglecting our coyote problem for so long, what do we in laguna beach do now? At this point hazing will have little effect. Likewise removing outdoor pet food, garden fruit and vegetables might have some, if limited impact, mainly due to lack of compliance. Keeping small pets and children indoors would work, but would not be practical or popular. Relocating trapped coyotes is not an option – first it’s illegal, but more importantly, released coyotes would be in conflict with existing coyotes in the release area. Although, it is true that removing problem coyotes will provide new opportunities for other/younger coyotes, much like when we trap and kill the rats and mice in our yards and houses, or pull weeds in our gardens, most of us know new ones will soon fill the voids created by removing the established ones. We remove them to keep them at a manageable level. Unfortunately, it looks like we are left with one unpleasant but necessary solution – trapping and euthanizing the problem coyotes living in our cities.

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