Long Beach Coyotes

By Rebecca Dmytryk

Image by Dru Bloomfield

Over the last few months, a group of Long Beach residents have become very vocal about the presence of coyotes in their neighborhoods, demanding coyotes be trapped and killed. It seems to be a relatively small group of individuals from two Facebook groups, Coyote Watch Long Beach and Coyote Watch Garden Grove, who have, since 2013, been leading a campaign to force state and local government to eradicate coyotes. 

From my brief involvement (until I was blocked), it was clear the administrators of the groups were not open to listening to other views or to sound solutions, they were out for blood.

Their complaints caught the attention of Long Beach Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who offered to bring the issue before the City Council at their August meeting.

Not all of the group's members advocate for killing the coyotes, they just want to feel safe and they want to protect their pets, understandably, but there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation being given out, creating needless hype and hysteria. 

I attended the council meeting on August 11th to support Councilwoman Mungo's proposal to direct the Long Beach Animal Care Services to study the city's coyote problem and come up with a better plan. We hope this will lead to formal adoption of a Coyote Management Plan similar to the one adopted by City of Calabasas in 2011. Check it out, HERE.

Since adopting the plan, which reserves lethal control for attacks on humans, Calabasas has experienced a reduction in the number of calls about coyotes, and those, they say, are mostly from newcomers unfamiliar with coyotes.

I also took the opportunity on the podium to address a few misconceptions about coyotes.

Coyotes are closely related to jackals, like the one pictured above. Like jackals, coyotes are predominantly scavengers.

Coyotes are more scavengers than they are predators. 

They do not stalk humans, but like the jackal in Africa, tailing lions for leftovers, coyotes are exhibiting the exact same behavior when they follow humans. They do not see humans as prey, but associate us with food.

Coyotes do not have established dens except when pups are first born. The notion that there are numerous dens throughout Long Beach is farfetched.

As for the idea that coyotes should not be seen in an urban setting, the urban environment is a modern-day ecosystem, often rich in resources. Many wild species are attracted by these resources, and therein lies the key to reducing their presence: reduce the availability of resources and you'll reduce the presence of wild animals in backyards and neighborhoods. It is truly that simple!

As for trapping and killing coyotes, which is being pushed for by a certain group of Long Beach residents - coyotes are difficult to capture in cage traps, so trappers often use snare-like devices. If the animals don't strangle to death before the trapper returns, they surely suffer when restrained and killed. Snares pose a risk to other animals and children. See video of a coyote rescued from a snare, HERE.

If C02 gas is used to kill the coyotes, as it has been used in neighboring community of Seal Beach (news article HERE), the animals will suffer tremendously. 

The pain and distress associated with CO2 as a killing agent is a serious welfare concern and has been deemed unacceptable for dogs an cats by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association does not recommend use of CO2 unless the suffering can be minimized, essentially rendering the animal unconscious before administering the gas.

The truth is, trapping and killing urban wildlife as a means of managing their populations is not only an outdated practice, it is not a long-term solution.

Long Beach will never be completely free of coyotes, they are part of the landscape. Attempts to eradicate them has been and always will be futile. The answer is to limit their resources and make the area less hospitable.

Coyotes are extremely smart and adaptable, modifying their behavior to their habitat. Urban coyotes reflect human behavior - their behavior is the mirror image, expressing, ever so accurately, the environment in which they live. In Long Beach, then, we see the influence of humans acting poorly, shaping the coyotes to what they have become.

The good news is, since it’s a people problem, there's great potential for change.

Before my trip to Long Beach for the meeting, I was contacted by a Lakewood Village resident who said her small dog narrowly escaped an attack by a coyote. She'd let it out the front door for just a few minutes - briefly unattended, and she heard a Yip. She ran outside to find her dog escaping a coyote that was now in her driveway. She picked up her small dog and shooed off the coyote.

She proceeded to tell me that coyotes had been seen on Warwood Road quite often lately, and that they would frequent the backyard of the house across the street from her, where she suspects there's a den. I told her I would check it out when I was in town.

So, the morning after the Long Beach City Council meeting (article about it HERE) I headed for Lakewood Village I started out early, at about 5:30 am, making my way from downtown, hoping to see a coyote... especially since one of the roads was named Los Coyotes Diagonal, right?

The sun was just coming up, the streets were getting busier.

I drove through a couple of quiet neighborhoods. It was trash day - cans were out on the street and I found a number of trash receptacles overfilled, where wildlife could have access to garbage. Overall, the streets were clean. I did find litter on the college campus.

I documented my findings using Theodolite, an app for accurate geotagging of photographs.

It was about 6:30 when I got to Lakewood Village. There were a lot of people on the streets, walking their dogs, jogging... 

It was about 7:00 when I spotted a coyote trotting down one of the streets, going from yard to yard, looking in bushes and scanning. He was extremely alert and wary. I followed him for a while, not applying to much pressure. I wanted to observe as normal behavior as possible.

After a while, I started hazing him. I tested him with a penny can first, from my truck, and got the normal reaction - very little. Wild animals don't really see a human as a threat when they are part of a larger object - inside a car or on a horse. 

The coyote in Lakewood Village on August 12th. He's staring at me waiting for direction - which way I am going to go.

Then I approached on foot, shaking the noisemaker - he bolted.

I pursued him, quietly, keeping a distance so I could engage him again at close range. I would sneak up on foot or head him off. I was able to haze him at least 5 times with either the penny-can and scare stick. 

At one point, a person ran out of their house and chased the coyote down the block. The coyote would dart across lawns and around corners, avoiding cars and people. Finally, I lost him when he scaled a block wall and jumped into the yard of what appeared to be an abandoned home. Interestingly, it this was just a couple of houses away from where I'd been told the coyotes had a den.

I rang the doorbell of the home where the coyotes were said to be living, and offered my assistance in resolving the issue.

The homeowner was delighted, and showed me where she thought they were living - under the home!

Sure enough, the crawlspace access door was broken through. The surface of the dirt near the entrance was "polished" - a sign that animals were coming and going. 

The resident had been hearing noises under the house, on and off for months, and actually saw a coyote go through the hole, so she knew she had a problem but couldn't find anyone to help. I assured her we would get them out, safely.

It didn't take long for me to install one of our one-way doors - it's like a doggy-door that allows animals to come out but they can't get back in. I'll return to remove the device and fix the opening permanently in a couple of weeks.

Piecing it all together... considering the homeowner had heard whimpering at one point and that she and neighbors had observed coyotes coming and going from under the house, this could possibly be a natal den - where pups were born earlier in the year. 

That would make sense... the increase in coyote sightings, the increase in the number of cats missing, the "bold" coyotes - just standing there - these could be the younger ones that haven't learned to fear humans yet. It makes sense.

After installing the one-way door I drove just under half a mile to the Warwood residence, where neighbors were concerned there was a den.

As I walked to the front door, I passed some familiar plants - California natives!!! White sage, purple sage, lemonade berry... and... coyote bush. A little patch of what used to be here... 

An older gentleman answered the door. I explained I was there to check out the backyard for coyotes if that was alright with him. He agreed... he escorted me to the back yard.

More natives!!! Sycamore and bay laurel, my favorite!

Although the grass was tall and there was a wood pile and it could use some tidying up, there was no sign of a den. Perhaps the coyotes were attracted to the cool shade and the natives and the quiet...

I looked around a little bit more, and, in the grass I found the partial remains of a cat.

Very sad for the cat. A preventable loss if the owner had kept it inside or in an outdoor enclosure. 

Having confirmed coyote activity in the yard, I decided to place a solar-powered motion-activated ultrasonic repeller that would make sounds and flash a light when triggered.

So far, so good. I spoke with a neighbor who had complained that the noise from the coyotes were keeping her up at night, and she said they'd stopped. Great!

Throughout the morning, I stopped and spoke with people who were out walking. I wanted to find out the truth... Was this neighborhood up in arms over the coyotes or was it just a few residents who were overly concerned? 

I spoke with a woman walking a small yorky-mix and asked if she was aware of the coyotes and if she was afraid walking her small dog. She said "No," she'd seen them but wasn't afraid - that they were "just like any other dog."

I spoke with another woman walking two small dogs and asked her if she felt safe with coyotes being in the neighborhood, and she said she sees them but doesn't worry, that it's more "panic in the streets" than anything else. 

Check out the video of that morning:

Bottom line, the residents of Long Beach want to feel safe and they want to protect their pets, understandably. Since the problem begins and ends with people, educating them on why the problem exists and what they can do to help the situation is essential.

To help educate the community about best practices for staying safe where coyotes are present, I'll be giving 2 presentations in the Long Beach. On August 27th at the El Dorado Nature Center from 6:30 to 8:00 pm, and the 28th at the El Dorado Community Center. I'll be demonstrating proper hazing techniques and use of a variety of hazing tools and deterrents, and showing examples of various ideas for safe backyards. News coverage, HERE.


Anonymous said...
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Rebecca Dmytryk said...

I found the reference of coyotes being related to jackals and more scavengers than predators from various reliable sources on the Internet. Sure, there are plenty of sources that describe the coyote as a predator, but really, with relationship to humans, they are more scavengers.

Yes, coyotes predate on small to medium sized animals, but not humans - coyotes do not see humans as prey. Coyotes do not stalk people, but simply follow them as they have learned to associate us with food.

I wanted to make these distinctions because I believe much of the demand for their eradication is because people fear them and they fear them because they do not know or understand the coyote. They often mistake coyote behavior for something that it is not.

First of all, they are not large canids - coyotes in the West are more fluff than anything, about 20 - 35 pounds.

If you encounter a coyote in open space and it holds its ground and stares at you, it's not threatening you, it's waiting to see what you do first - what action or direction you're going to take, so it can take the opposite. However, if you encounter a coyote with pups or a den close by, however, it will hold its ground and perhaps vocalize.

If you are walking with a medium to large sized dog and you are in what the coyotes perceive to be their territory, they may become aggressive towards the dog, but not the human - not normally. It is the dog they perceive as the threat. Their attention will be focused on the dog - you're more of an inconvenience. In this situation, if the coyotes follow you while you retreat with the dog on leash, again, the coyotes are following the dog - not you.

I hear the fear and concern from residents, but how can we help if they refute facts - if they refuse to listen to reason?

That's what's been so frustrating with the Coyote Watch Long Beach FB group is that the administrators and a few long-standing members deny facts and refuse to listen to anyone who doesn't share their idea that the coyotes should be trapped and killed, and they have been at it since 2013, though they deny this. But I have the facts and can prove it.

David Harper said...

I couldn't agree more with the writer of this story. Coyotes will take small animals, squirrels, mice and such however are not going to attack people. They look for an easy meal. Well written and I believe you are taking the appropriate course of action. There is no reason to start hap hazard trapping or killing of Coyotes and others caught up in melee.

Anonymous said...

I've had three coyote encounters while walking in early morning hours the past two years. They don't bother me and frankly, I'm thrilled when I run across one. We just look at one another for a brief while and then continue on our separate ways. One time, it was a huge male and smaller female. I was ecstatic! BTW, I'm a 78yo lady.

Anonymous said...

I live in Lakewood Village, and am not a member of any organized group.
I enjoy observing and photographing wildlife - in the wild.
Lakewood Village, on the other hand, has been a residential neighborhood for over eighty years, and, as such, is not a reasonable place to tolerate the presence of lions, tigers, bears.....or coyotes.
It is inconsistent to claim that coyotes are not predators, and also to say that it's not safe to let the cat out.
I'd prefer that the coyotes be relocated rather than being killed, but have heard that relocation is illegal. I should not have to worry about letting my 10lb dog out in its own back yard, and I should not have to worry about taking him for a walk around my own block.
If a wild dog was running around the neighborhood eating cats and small dogs, animal control would deal with it swiftly and decisively. There's no reason why coyotes ought to be treated any differently.