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Hunters Summoned to Target Coyotes

Animal control officers and Laguna Woods city officials are turning to professional hunters to trap and shoot coyotes that ever more boldly have seized pets and attacked residents in Laguna Woods in recent weeks.

In an emergency meeting last Thursday, Laguna Woods’ City Council adopted an ordinance to allow the hiring of professional shooting teams to control coyotes that have harried the city’s mostly elderly population.

“It went really crazy two weekends ago,” said Jim Beres, who supervises animal services for Laguna’s police department, which has provided service to Laguna Woods since 2001.

Animal services supervisors from around Orange County all report an increase in coyote activity, said Beres, who meets with his colleagues monthly. With the city’s northern perimeter bordering wildland, Laguna’s pet owners have long endured coyote attacks. Even so, coyote activity this year sets a new record, according to animal services officer Joy Falk, relaying anecodotal reports by her counterparts at other agencies.

Efforts to abate nuisance animals start with low measures and escalate as needed, Beres said. “If it doesn’t work you take it to the next step and the last available tool to use is a shooting team,” he said, adding that shooters have not been called in to Laguna Beach since 2006.

“What concerned us was the unusual aggressiveness of the coyotes displaying no fear of humans, coming up to them in broad daylight, attacking animals on leash on a paved sidewalk. Why are they being so bold and aggressive? We don’t know, but we know it’s occurring and it’s not good,” said Beres, who suggested people are disregarding warnings against feeding coyotes. “Some folks still do it.”

 The main culprit is habituation; coyotes know humans have food, and are much less afraid of us than they used to be.

“These are coyotes who spend most of their time in the human-urban interface and very little time out in the open wild. Each generation spent like this gets a little more habituated to humans,” said Falk, whose past week was consumed almost exclusively dealing with coyote calls in Laguna Woods. Few calls originate in Laguna Beach because residents here are much quicker to call and generate an animal services response, which has stopped the problem largely before it has reached the proportions of that in Laguna Wods, she said.

Laguna Woods provides a more attractive environment to coyotes, she said.

“It’s a banquet, a highly rich food source,” said Falk, describing the community’s golf course, garden centers, fruit trees, and creek bed home to ducks and geese. “The coyotes are seen feeding on those quite a bit,” she said, adding that outdoor pets are another draw.

She is often greeted by domestic cats while examining the animal trails coyotes use to enter communities. “I still can’t believe people keep outside cats these days,” she said.

The incidence of coyote attacks on humans and their growing population was documented in Spanish settlements prior to California’s statehood, coyote expert Robert Timm, director of UC Davis’ Hopland Research Center, said in a 2007 paper about coyote habituation.

Again this week, Laguna police fielded a high number of coyote related calls following last week’s injury of a woman knocked over by a coyote that seized her dog. Reports described a coyote entering a residence, on a woman’s patio, stalking people walking leashed dogs, a man approached by a pack of five coyotes, and a description of  coyotes “as big as German shepherds.”

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