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How to stay safe, co-exist with coyotes

Expert: Keeping coyotes wary of humans is the best way to minimize human interactions with them

By Sam Richards

Staff writer

(Friday, Oct. 6, 1:30 p.m.): Nicholas Sten said he’s as much of an animal lover as the next guy but that it seems there aren’t as many animals to love these days as there were five to 10 years ago. And he mostly blames coyotes for that.

“There aren’t as many deer here now; there are fewer turkeys now,” said Sten, a Rossmoor resident since 2010. “I haven’t seen a rabbit or a red fox in several years.

“There seem to be a lot more coyotes now,” Sten added. “Their predators are no longer around.”

Coyotes are below only apex predators mountain lions on the area food chain. And while the big cats are still on the scene, though elusive, there nonetheless has been an increased interaction between coyotes and Bay Area humans in recent years.

Coyotes are considered “human adapted” species, meaning they benefit, at least indirectly, from living near humans. They have taken well to city environments, including highly urbanized San Francisco. It is believed that, about 20 years after a population had become established there, their numbers have probably hit a ceiling, saturated with coyotes’ “territories.”

While they have been credited with helping control the population of feral cats in San Francisco, they also regard domestic cats – pets – as a food source. Coyotes also consider small dogs as potential food, and experts say small pets are at risk with coyotes around. Some kinds of fruit are also attractants of coyotes.

Whether there are actually more coyotes around nowadays is hard to say, said Dr. Michelle Lute, co-executive director of New Mexico-based Wildlife for All. Coyotes’ numbers aren’t formally tracked, she said, and drought, wildfires, migration of prey and the COVID pandemic have all affected wildlife behaviors, including coming into more contact with people.

Jan Long said he was walking his Jack Russell terrier Baxter near his Terra Granada Drive home at about 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 when he and Baxter saw a coyote on Dollar Ranch Golf Course’s 11th fairway. The small dog ran down the hill to the fairway, ripping the leash from Long’s hand, and began fighting with the coyote.

A golfer, Daryl Mathews, chased the coyote away and helped rescue Baxter, who had suffered a major gash in his neck. An emergency vet said the wound barely missed the carotid artery, or the injury could have been fatal.

Long, concerned that “the next victim could be a person,” said he favors thinning out the coyote population. “Something has to be done to control them,” he said last week.

Lute said killing coyotes isn’t the way to best regulate them. The canines respond quickly to significant population control efforts by increasing birthrates.

“There’s an old saying – ‘Kill one coyote, and two more will come to the funeral,’” she said.

Unlike mountain lions, a specially protected species that hasn’t been hunted since 1972, coyotes have approximately the same level of legal protection as rats or pigeons. But while there are no limits to how many coyotes can be killed in California, state law allows neither leg traps nor poison to do it, and coyotes caught via other means cannot be relocated.

John Tawaststjerna, Rossmoor’s landscape manager, said coyote trapping is expensive, and that there aren’t many contractors who do the trapping. GRF has trapped wild pigs – the local population being a mix of European wild boars, feral domestic pigs and crossbred variations thereof – because they do expensive damage to large swaths of lawns and landscaping, and can transmit infectious pathogens including E. coli, Salmonella and Giardia. But even trapping the pigs, he said, is no longer in the GRF budget.

And while the pigs were human-introduced and now considered an invasive species, coyotes are native to this area. Their range includes the entirety of 49 states (not Hawaii) and most of Mexico and Canada, plus some Central American countries.

“They have been here way longer than us,” Tawaststjerna said. “We should celebrate the ability to see a coyote once in a while, which reaffirms what a beautiful and unique place Rossmoor is.”

Between July 2020 and February 2021, five people (including two children) in Lafayette and Moraga were attacked by what turned out to be the same male coyote, which eventually was found and euthanized. No one was seriously injured.

In general, however, coyote attacks against humans are rare. An Urban Coyote Research Project study of the United States and Canada between 1985 and 2006 turned up 159 attacks by coyotes, 76 of them in California. Two deaths were recorded – one in California, and one in Nova Scotia.

Attacks were in several categories, but when coyotes lose their natural fear of humans, they are more likely to attack.

Lute said helping keep coyotes wary of humans is probably the best way to minimize human interactions with them.

The Chicago-based Cook County Urban Coyote Research Project has these tips and observations about co-existing with coyotes:

  • Do not feed coyotes. This means not leaving dog or cat food outside, day or night, or leaving garbage outside in any container that isn’t a dumpster. Bird feeders can also present issues, not because coyotes like bird seeds (generally they don’t), but they do enjoy eating the birds, squirrels and other small animals drawn to a feeder.
  • Do not let pets run loose. Keep dogs on a leash, the shorter the better, and don’t leave any pets unattended outside, even in a fenced yard, even for short periods.
  • Do not run from a coyote should one approach. Yell, wave your arms and/or throw something at the animal. Do not play victim if you can help it. If a coyote seems intent on defending a certain area, particularly around pupping season (May, typically), changing your usual walking route may be in order. Walkers may consider carrying a noisemaker (a can full of rocks, for instance) with them.
  • Do not create conflict where it does not exist. Don’t seek out and/or aggravate a coyote that isn’t aggressive and acting as a coyote would be expected to.
  • Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately.

Long said he may well write the GRF Board asking it to consider taking steps to reduce the local coyote population but doesn’t know what else he can do. He believes other Rossmoorians feel as he does, though.

“There’s support in numbers,” he said.