Rancho Palos Verdes City Council
   

TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL

FROM: ASSISTANT TO THE CITY MANAGER

DATE: MARCH 2, 2004

SUBJECT: COYOTES

RECOMMENDATION

Direct staff to implement a program of public awareness and coyote monitoring.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Recent accounts of coyote sightings and/or coyotes preying on pets have raised some public concern. In response, staff contacted California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and Department of Agriculture and was advised that the presence of coyotes is not an imminent public safety threat and the most effective way to address citizen concerns is to increase public awareness. DFG strongly discouraged coyote trapping until residents have first exhausted simple preventative measures or unless a coyote exhibits aggressive coyote behavior toward humans.

BACKGROUND

On average, the City receives one or two citizen calls annually about a coyote sighting, howling or preying on cats; there have been no reports of aggressive or threatening coyote behavior (charging, stalking or growling) toward people. Residents commonly report a single incident and raise concerns for human and pet safety. In response, staff reassures residents that wild animals wandering through their private property are more interested in food left behind than the people living there. The chances of a coyote attacking a person are very rare, since coyotes are generally afraid of people. When residents are asked about suspected coyote attacks on small pets, such as domesticated cats, staff discovers that pet owners had allowed their pets to roam free at night and as a consequence these pets are vulnerable to all kinds of predators.

Due to the absence of substantial evidence and citizen testimony of aggressive coyote behavior toward humans, staff focused on raising public awareness by advising residents how to peacefully co-exist with the wildlife on the Peninsula and encouraged residents to contact the Department of Fish and Game or the County Department of Agriculture for more information and assistance. Common suggestions offered to residents include: remove all easily accessible food sources, keep small pets indoors at night as a regular practice, clean up pet food after feeding time, and make sure trash and composting containers are securely closed at night. Once easy, reliable food sources are eliminated, coyotes tend not to return.

Coyote Facts

As a matter of background information, staff compiled some basic facts on coyotes. Coyotes are native to California and are found throughout most of California. The California Department of Fish and Game estimates a population range of 250,000 to 750,000 individuals. The coyote numbers in Rancho Palos Verdes is unknown; staff is unaware of any accurate estimates.

Coyotes are very adaptable and inhabit most areas of the state with the exception of the centers of major metropolitan areas. They are medium sized animals belonging to the dog family and closely resemble a small collie dog with large erect ears, slender muzzle and bushy, black-tipped tail. Most adults weigh between 22 to 25 pounds on the average, with males being the larger sex. The voice of the coyote is quite distinctive, consisting of various howls, high-pitched yaps, and occasional dog like barks.

The diet of the coyote consists mainly of mice, rats, ground squirrels, gophers, rabbits, and carrion. They also eat insects, reptiles, amphibians, fruits, birds and their eggs, and deer fawns. In urban and suburban areas, garbage, domestic cats and dogs, other pets, hobby animals, and pet food can be important food items.

DISCUSSION

Mayor Gardiner requested staff to prepare a report on coyotes and potential options to remedy citizen concerns of public safety for consideration and discussion by the full City Council.

Staff discussed common citizen complaints (coyote sighting, hearing coyote howling, and missing pets) and safety concerns with representatives of the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the California Department of Agriculture. Both agency representatives frankly stated that the presence of coyotes and coyote sightings in the community do not mean an imminent public safety threat. According to Lt. Kent Smiral with DFG, coyotes are so prevalent throughout California and relatively harmless to humans that DFG considers the totality of circumstances when determining if a coyote is an imminent threat to public safety. For example, coyotes preying of loose pets are not considered by DFG as an imminent threat to warrant trapping. However, if a pet cat was indoors and the coyote was stalking the cat from outside the patio door over a period of days, this type of behavior may be classified under imminent threat.

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) pointed out that coyotes preying on pet cats are a perfect example of how humans have inadvertently impacted the traditional food chain. DFG emphasized the important role and responsibility of humans in maintaining the sensitive ecological balance on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The City’s diverse wildlife and natural habitat abundantly provide food, shelter and water for coyotes. However, coyotes, like many wild animals, are attracted to "man-made" food sources, such as leftover pet food, unattended pets, unsecured garbage, fallen fruit, etc. Wild animals naturally seek out food wherever they can find it. According to Doug Updike, Senior Wildlife Biologist for DFG, problems occur when people feed coyotes - either deliberately or inadvertently. While aggressive displays toward people are not considered normal coyote behavior, it is important to note that coyotes will become comfortable around humans if we let them. Potential conflicts can be avoided if residents are mindful of their actions.

The DFG discourages coyote trapping for the following reasons: (a) The area will sustain a certain number of coyotes; so if a coyote is trapped and destroyed, another animal will eventually take its place. (b) Even with trapping, animal problems will perpetuate until residents remove the attractants on their property. (c) The temporary loss of one predator in the food chain may contribute to future "animal problems" due to population growth spurts of other animals and pests.

POTENTIAL OPTIONS

  1. Public Awareness and Monitoring Program

To better address human safety concerns, the Council may direct staff to develop a public awareness and coyote-monitoring program, "Wildlife Watch", tailored after the Neighborhood Watch concept. Staff would implement Wildlife Watch by taking the following steps:

  1. Distribute public education materials on coyotes, attached are samples, including "Living with Coyotes" pamphlet from the Department of Fish and Game.
  2. Advocate coyote prevention strategies.
  3. Document coyote activity.
  4. Offer coyote presentations to Homeowner Associations (HOA) by city staff or possibly a volunteer speaker from the Department of Fish and Game.
  5. Encourage residents and HOAs to work together to deter coyote activity in their neighborhood. A simple way is for residents to document or report coyote activity in their neighborhood, so they can identify problem areas, possible causes or coyote attractants, preventative measures to take, etc.
  6. Promote Wildlife Watch on the City’s website, in the City’s newsletter, mailings to Homeowners Associations and Neighborhood Watch, and post flyers at park sites.

2. Trapping and Destroying Coyotes.

Should the City Council, a resident or a Homeowner Association decide to contract for trapping services on private property, staff has investigated available trapping services for the region and some cost estimates.

    1. Animal Pest Management Services, a private firm, charges $2,500-$3,500 for a full 10-day package, which includes a number of traps, miscellaneous materials, set up and tear down of traps, daily monitoring, euthanizing trapped animals and properly disposing them.
    2. Los Angeles County Department of Agriculture would be willing to contract with the City for trapping services. The County charges an hourly rate for trapping services instead of a flat cost. Staff estimates the County’s cost for a 10-day trapping period would be comparable to the private company.

The common trapping method for both service providers is the "collar-snare" trap, which is specifically designed to trap a coyote in a "choke-hold". The collar snare is virtually invisible to the eye and triggered when the coyote steps on the mechanism that releases the snare and secures the animal, without injuring it.

Should the City decide to contract trapping services for private homeowners, staff envisions the following implementation steps:

  • Residents contact the City to request for trapping service.
  • Staff and/or Contractor survey the private property with homeowner to determine whether trapping is necessary and/or identify a trap location.
  • Homeowner provides permission for trapping to occur on his/her private property.
  • Contractor will be responsible for the following: set up the trap for about 1 or 2 weeks, monitor the trap daily or as necessary, euthanize any trapped coyotes, dispose the animal and remove the trap.
  • Trapping services paid by city or resident or HOA.

Staff cautions that a trapping service does not guarantee results. Trapping will be most successful in areas with high volume or regular coyote traffic. To staff’s knowledge, residents have not indicated that coyotes are continually visiting their property; so trapping efforts may be unsuccessful.

  1. Trapping and Relocation.

Relocation of trapped wild animals is not an option. In California, it is illegal to relocate trapped coyotes to another area (California Code Regulations, Title 14. Natural Resources, Section 671; Fish and Game Code, Section 2118).

FISCAL IMPACT

The Wildlife Watch program will require nominal expenses to cover informational materials and staff overtime to conduct community meetings, as necessary.

The trapping service alternative for a 10-day period may range from $2,500 to $3,500 depending upon how many traps are set up and their locations.

ALTERNATIVES

  1. Contract for coyote trapping services with the County of Agriculture or private firm, Animal Pest Management Company.

Respectfully submitted,

Gina Park

Assistant to the City Manager

Reviewed:

Les Evans

City Manager

Attachments:

  1. Keep Me Wild flyer, Department of Fish and Game
  2. Living with Coyotes pamphlet, Department of Fish and Game