Laguna Beach will intensify its offensive against aggressive coyotes by killing pregnant ones snared in rope traps beginning later this winter, according to a plan the police department will present to the City Council in January.
The juvenile pups who avoided the traps are on the hit list for the fall, according to Jim Beres, civilian supervisor in charge of animal services. Beres delineated the plan this week. The pups are weaned then and on their own so that male coyotes will mate again with the mother, he explained.
“They’re not an endangered species,” Beres said, in defending the proposed killing plan he describes as proactive “enhanced trapping.”
“We’ve been reactive up until now to complaints from residents,” he said. With the unusual occurrence of a coyote coming into an open home last month and taking one of three Chihuahuas, a more intensive approach of “population management” is needed, he said. Any coyote caught in a trap in town, pregnant or not, Beres said, will be euthanized. “Our intent is to target pregnant female coyotes,” he said.
A “habituated” animal no longer fearful of people is unusual, he conceded, saying there is only one problem coyote in town, in the Oak Street area.
Killing coyotes is not the answer to a complex issue, said Dick Newell, a wild-animal tracker who has monitored wildlife for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy for the past 20 years.
“For us to assume that the behavior of all coyotes is the same is ridiculous. It’s like saying all humans behave the same,” said Newell, who runs OC Trackers, a nonprofit wildlife tracking group.
Just because coyotes are not an endangered species is no license to kill them, he said. A coyote is an important element to maintaining balance in the native habitat, he explained, reducing burrowing gophers and squirrels that could demolish a hillside if left unchecked. “There’s a niche for him and he’s doing a great job for us.”
At a City Council meeting earlier this month, council members called for stronger measures. “I want to take the fight to them. We need to be aggressive about this; people are afraid,” said councilman Robert Zur Schmiede.
“We’re just lucky we haven’t lost a child yet,” councilwoman Toni Iseman commented.
“Nobody in Laguna Beach, no man, woman, adult or child has ever been attacked by a coyote,” Beres said. Statistically, dogs are a worse threat to public safety in Laguna than coyotes. “You’re much more likely to be injured by a pet dog in this town than by a coyote,” he said. “We have dozens of dog bites every year and we’ve had kids mauled by pit bulls and end up going to the hospital.”
So far, five adult male coyotes have been trapped and killed. The current number of reported coyote sightings and pet attacks has not yet been compiled, Beres said.
Removing the animals from one neighborhood doesn’t solve the problem, according to Newell. “Coyotes are going to come in from the wild to fill up that vacuum,” he said.
Beres agrees. “That’s why eradication is not the answer.”
The long-term answer, Beres and Newell concur, is for people to voluntarily change their behavior because they, unlike coyotes, can.
Start reducing the food source, they say, and the number of wild animals in town will also diminish. There are 7,000 licensed dogs alone in Laguna, Beres said, so keeping small dogs and cats, easy prey for coyotes, inside at night is the first step. Food and water dishes also need to come in, he said, adding that even bird seed will attract coyotes. Coyotes have a keen sense of smell, sight and sound, and can follow any food source, said Newell.
Educating the public to learn to live with wild animals is part of the city’s coyote-management tools. But getting people to change their behavior is harder to implement than a plan to euthanize coyotes, Beres said. “Getting all the human beings in town to reduce all potential sources of food for coyotes is not realistic,” he said.
“We just need to clean up our act,” he said. “There is no animal out in nature that will go anywhere for any extended period of time if there’s not an abundance of food. If he came back and back and back to that same backyard and didn’t get any food, he’d go someplace else. We’d do the same thing.”
Newell said he’s spent years trying to educate people to work with wildlife. Some of them, he says, “just want to kill that coyote.”
The stepped-up plan calls for an additional $10,000 in funding. The city employs Animal Pest Management Services in Chino and Laguna Hills, and its trapper, Jimmy Risso, at $3,000 for 10 days of trapping, said Beres, who said the city’s animal services officers take Newell’s tracking course.
A blanket of traps will be set up in specific problem areas, including Oak Street, where sightings continue to occur. But the traps are not expected to eliminate coyotes coming into town. “You can’t trap or kill your way out of a coyote problem,” Beres said.