LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Coyotes are native to California, but in recent years, they’ve been spotted more and more in urban environments. Judging from posts on Nextdoor, Facebook and our inboxes, people are concerned about the presence of coyotes in their neighborhoods, especially if they pose a risk to their pets. We spoke with Jon Healy, the public information officer at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife about what people need to know about coyotes.
Is the coyote population increasing?
We haven’t done any studies as a department, but California has always had a healthy coyote population. We haven’t done a specific population study – at least out here in Southern California.
Would you consider the coyotes a problem?
It’s an understanding of wildlife and how we as humans can coexist with wildlife. We don’t consider anything necessarily a problem. Urban coyotes over the last couple of years, have learned to thrive and basically survive in urban settings. Because of urban sprawl, a lot of coyotes have been pushed out of their natural habitats. It could be drought-related, it could be food source. Food sources are harder to come by so they’re coming down out of habitat and thriving in urban settings.
Are coyotes something we’d have to learn how to live with? As in they’re not going away anytime soon?
Yes. Without a doubt. This is going to be about humans learning to live with coyotes.
What would coexisting look like?
Keeping a distance from any wild animal is the first best course of action, but it’s also understanding what pulls coyotes in and attracts them. It could be domestic animals that you leave out — cats, dogs. You could be leaving pet food out, it could be non-attended trash. A lot of urban parks — they could be doing a better job removing trash.
A lot of people want to feed the wildlife because they think the wildlife need the food. But what happens when humans become the food source. When we’re feeding coyotes, coyotes are going to equate humans with the food. So they lose that natural fear of humans. That is not a good thing, with coyotes or any wildlife.
What’s currently being done about coyotes?
My department doesn’t engage in any coyote management. For coyotes, the first level of management lies with the city, the municipality, or the county. It can be a very sensitive issue because when you talk about management, it sometimes involves killing — like pest control. So a lot of municipalities don’t want that negative press of euthanizing animals, so they tend to not engage in it. Within my department, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we are only involved with coyotes who become a public safety issue.
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How much freedom do cities have in dealing with coyotes?
Cities can run a coyote management plan any way they want. What my department actually would do, we have a wildlife watch program where we teach people — teach the community — how to keep an eye out for coyotes. You can post sightings on a community board. We work with local police departments as far as what constitutes a problem animal, what may be a public safety issue. But each individual city can run a management plan any way they see fit. If they want to be aggressive, they certainly have that right – it’s their city. Or if they want to take more of a hands-on approach, that’s their decision as well.
How about people concerned a pets?
Yes, and that is certainly a legitimate concern, and I would be lying if I said coyotes would not take small pets. It’s about being smart. If you’re going to walk your smaller type of dogs, you shouldn’t walk them close to any brush or habitat where coyotes would most likely be. Don’t leave your domestic animals in your backyard. Or if you have a low fence, coyotes can jump and climb. Certainly people that leave their cats out — or the ones that come and go — that is probably not the best idea if you’re concerned about your cat. It’s just about bringing your pets in, making sure they’re safe, if not, not walking your pet in a known area with coyotes. Because they will come if the animal’s small enough, or if the coyotes feel that they can take that animal, they will come out and take that animal whether they’re on a leash or not.
If a pet were to be eaten, would anything be done about it?
Unfortunately, pets and livestock, that’s all considered property. My department is involved as far as public safety for humans.
What is the most common misconception toward coyotes?
I think with most wildlife, people have these fears that these animals are dangerous. These are animals that have always been here. They’ve been here long before us. They’re not super aggressive animals, but they are wild animals, so I would say keeping a fear of animals is healthy, just like we hope the animal keeps a fear of us. But as far as the animal being super dangerous and engaging in a premeditated attack on people, that is a misconception. They’re acting on instinct, and they’re not aggressive predators, or anything we really do need to be concerned with. A lot of people believe they’re a lot bigger than they really are — coyotes are actually small.
This interview was edited for clarity.