Coyotes cause chaos in Los Angeles area

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Imagine waking up to discover your family pet has been killed overnight by a wild animal and the remains have been left in your yard. For Dyann Williams, and many others in Southern California, this wasn’t an imagination, but her reality. About a year ago, a coyote came into her family’s backyard and killed their beloved cat. 

Southern California is a region known for its diverse array of wildlife as the state is home to mountain ranges, coastlines and deserts. Surrounded by mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles County is home to many species and coyotes are one of the commonly sighted animals in both urban and suburban areas. 

Although coyotes have lived in the Southern California region “well before European settlement,” according to the National Library of Medicine, there has been an uptick in sightings and interactions according to the LA County website’s “Managing Coyote Problems” page. In 2022, 15 coyote bites were reported while the previous five years all reported five or less. While danger to humans is rare, residents are losing cats, small dogs and other pets to the coyote population. 

Community members have been speaking out at city council meetings as the coyote sightings increase, worried about the threat to their pets. Cities instruct their residents to keep pets inside, especially after dark, according to the website for the city of Torrance. 

“Please bring your fur babies inside at night,” said Dyann Williams, a Harbor City resident. “A coyote grabbed my cat early one morning and we found what was left of him.” 

Williams said his experience is not an uncommon one as many residents of neighboring cities have reached out after sharing this tragedy on social media. The commonality of social media posts regarding the debate over coyote management has revealed that there is a divide in ideas about how best to handle the issue. 

“Coyotes are monogamous and remain with their family unit in their territory,” said Rebecca Dmytryk, CEO of Humane Wildlife Control. “This territory may need to be expanded if there’s not enough food within the current boundaries and that has led to coyotes moving into urban environments in search of food. 

Dmytryk understands that people are concerned about pets and safety, but she said that the attraction of coyotes to people’s homes is usually a product of “human ignorance.” Coyotes are motivated by the need to feed themselves and their families, a task made more difficult when their feeding areas were industrialized. 

According to the study, “The Intrepid Urban Coyote,” coyotes are not inherently aggressive toward humans but can become bolder among them depending on past interactions. One of the major ways to increase the amount of coyotes in a certain area is to leave food out or feed the coyotes by hand, according to the aforementioned study. 

Community members, local politicians and wildlife experts have been thrust into a debate over how best to manage the population of coyotes in the county. Coyote culling, trapping an/or euthanizing coyotes, is the major point of focus in these debates as many argue it is inhumane and ineffective while others argue it’s the only way to protect their pets and property. 

Dr. Chris Mowry, professor of biology at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia, has been conducting research on coyotes for over 20 years and said preventative measures are the most effective option as coyotes do not interact with humans unless they are being fed. 

“Passive management, working to prevent conflict before it develops, is the key to coexisting with coyotes,” said Mowry in an email. “Relocation of coyotes is not an option as any coyote that is captured by a trapper will be euthanized.” 

Opposition to this opinion comes from local government officials and community members who are fearful of losing pets or destruction of property. Some local representatives, such as Manhattan Beach city councilmember Joe Franklin, said he believe it’s important to support and protect the residents of their communities above all else. 

“I support the trapping options,” said Franklin. “We have the evidence that they’re here where they’ve never been before.” 

Cities have been put in the position of having to create policy and guidelines that address the increasing coyote encounters. One of the first in the county to address this issue was Torrance, according to the county of Los Angeles, as they proposed a coyote management plan that was drawn up in 2019 and multiple community meetings were held to gather input. According to Torrance’s website, the accepted coyote management plan included the strategy of trapping and euthanizing coyotes. 

The decision to allow lethal techniques in the city’s coyote management plan was highly debated and still has effects today. Manhattan Beach, which neighbors Torrance, and has seen increased coyote sightings since the beginning of this year. 

“We have approved a plan that includes trapping if necessary,” said Richard Montgomery, Manhattan Beach mayor. “We have not had any reports of any coyote bites, only increased sightings and as a result our actions are proactive.” 

Pasadena, another city in Los Angeles County, is scheduled to have a vote on a coyote management plan that includes trapping and euthanization. The city is following in the footsteps of Torrance, the first to implement a plan with allowances for lethal methods according to Dmytryk, despite its coyote sightings increasing by 14% the year after implementation, according to the city’s own reported sightings. 

Several cities in Los Angeles County have created and approved individual coyote management plans for their jurisdictions. The debate is a continuing one as new cities face the implementation of a coyote management plan, something Manhattan Beach and Pasadena are now experiencing. 

For more information on how best to coexist with coyotes, check your city’s website for tips. 

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