Behavior Change Works Both Ways: New Long Beach Coyote Management Plan Finalized

Humans have knowingly or unknowingly coexisted with wildlife in urban areas for generations—masked raccoons plundering trash cans and kitchen cabinets, fierce-looking but actually harmless opossums sprawled out on the staircase (I sidled past one once when I lived on the other side of the county line—ever see those teeth? They’re all show.), bunnies both wild and abandoned domestic hopping and breeding with little abandon, squirrels as the standing joke in comics and comments about dogs.

Response generally ranges from “Isn’t that cute!” to “Shoo! Shoo! Get the broom!” Occasionally, people will take more aggressive action.

At the August 11 Long Beach City Council Meeting, area residents and members of wildlife organizations took over three hours to express diverse opinions over the proposal of councilmembers Stacy Mungo (Fifth District), Daryl Supernaw (Fourth District) and Robert Uranga (Seventh District) to establish a coyote mitigation program to address the growing presence of coyotes in the area.

Emotions ran high and comments ranged from the need to educate the public about coexisting with wildlife, while at the same time protecting pets from attacks, to dismissing studies and practices as myth and calling for immediate coyote removal. A good number of attendees said that they didn’t want to hurt any coyotes but were bewildered and frightened by coyote sightings and incidents, as well as an apparently increasing lack of fear in the animals.

“I would never want to eliminate animals, because we’re the ones that have caused the problem,” said Anne Marie Reggie during a recent conversation. “But the reality is, they do exist, they’re getting more aggressive, they do attack pets—our family—and they’re getting braver. That’s a different level for me. We need to be as proactive as we can be.”

Reggie also expressed concern about being armed with knowledge of what to do in the case of a confrontation with a coyote and freezing up when reality hits. “Do we know that the hazing’s going to work, if it happens when you least expect it? They say don’t run [when you come across a coyote], but what do you do in reality? It’s so great when it’s on paper, but what do you do when you see one?”

Reggie described a neighbor who was versed in hazing techniques, but when she and her old dog met up with one near the Colorado Lagoon, she lost it and charged toward the fire department, dog in arm, and banged on the door, screaming to be let in.

There has seemed to be an increase in coyote sightings and incidents. A handful of attacks were made on at least one adult and a few small children in Irvine; although it’s a relatively small number and likely came from one animal, consternation and panic would be natural reactions.

NextDoor Long Beach has reported a number of sightings of coyotes in Belmont Shore, the Marina Stadium area, Belmont Heights and El Dorado Park, among other locations, and cat killings were described in great detail. There seemed to be several comments and reports for each incident, which may have fed into the perception of coyotes everywhere, boarding buses, twirling parasols on Second Street and ordering Third Wave coffee drinks downtown; what remains, however, is that there have been enough reports to cause public concern and call for an approach to address the issue.

“From what I remember, this year is similar to last year—there has been a steady increase since 2010 as the public has become more aware and we have done more education about reporting sightings to ACS,” said Long Beach Animal Care Services Manager (ACS) Ted Stevens. “So it could be a lot of reasons for the increase. And social media has helped to get the word out to more people creating more reports.”

Stevens added that social media is a good thing in this respect but that the plan will only work if incidents, particularly high-level ones, are reported to ACS.

After a series of meetings with ACS staff, city council and staff, residents, wildlife experts and community groups, the previous Coyote Management Plan was reconfigured and finalized.

It was publicized on November 3. The new plan differs from the previous one in its layout, which is in the form of an outline and more concise, thus providing greater accessibility to the information. Information on coyote history, behavior, hazing techniques and other precautions and information are also laid out more clearly.

Both versions describe a tiered response plan in four levels; differences include a change from Green to Blue as the alert color of the first-level coyote sighting after consideration of input that the color green implied safety; and a more specific and detailed definition of Orange, the level at which a coyote attacks and kills a pet, acts aggressively toward people and otherwise appears to have lost its fear of humans through multiple sightings. The time between sightings was changed from short amount of time to a specific two weeks, and multiple-level instances to three that have been reported and investigated. In the Orange level, ACS will implement increased patrol of the area and will also discuss action at the management level. Targeted lethal removal may be employed, considering the situation.

The alert levels in the management plan read as follows:

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Response Plan

A detailed tiered response plan has been developed to provide a mechanism for identifying and classifying different levels of human and coyote interactions. Definitions of coyote encounters are listed in Appendix A, and Appendix B provides a chart detailing coyote behavior, behavior classification and recommended ACS responses.

Threat Level Tiered Response LEVEL

GENERAL OVERVIEW

BLUE

– Coyote seen or heard in an area.

– Sighting may be during the day or night.

– Coyote may be seen moving through an area or resting in one place.

– Education and hazing recommended.

YELLOW

– Coyote frequents an area with humans or human related food sources, and exhibits little wariness of human presence, and/or involved with an unattended domestic animal loss incident.

– Coyote is seen during the day resting or continuously moving through an area frequented by people.

– Education and aggressive hazing necessitated, and increased response and patrols by Animal Control Officers may be implemented.

ORANGE

– Coyote involved in an incident where there is an attended domestic animal loss, where it enters a dwelling or yard in which people are present, or where it acts aggressively toward people.

– Multiple incidents of this level, occurring within relative proximity of one another, may indicate the presence of a habituated coyote(s).

– Education and aggressive hazing necessitated, increased response and patrols by Animal Control Officers to be implemented, and circumstances to be discussed by department management.

– If three investigated and confirmed level orange incidents have occurred in the same general area within a timespan of two weeks, targeted lethal removal may be implemented.

– Lethal removal may be employed at the discretion of the Director of Animal Care Services in cases involving extreme instances of aggression towards humans.

RED

– Coyote involved in an investigated and documented attack, either provoked or unprovoked, on a human.

– City staff will notify California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), which assumes the role of lead agency, and will work with DFW to locate and eliminate the responsible coyote(s).

Appendix B, which further delineates the alert system, is also more clearly specified.

“I think it looks pretty good,” said Rebecca Dmytryk, the founder and president of Wildlife Emergency Services. “I think it more clearly defines things and gives Animal Care Services some discretion when it comes to use of lethal control. I like how it goes into detail about what attracts wildlife to neighborhoods, because, really, this is a human nuisance issue—the problem begins and ends with us, our behavior.”

Dmytryk spoke at the August 11 city council meeting and conducted two workshops for coyote management a few days later. Coyote Watch, a community group whose members also spoke at the meeting and provided input to the plan, allegedly declined to speak to any press upon advice from their attorney.

To compare plans, access the former version here and the updated one here 

ACS’s wildlife web page has been updated to include an online coyote map and a form for reporting coyote sightings and incidents. Please use these tools—social media is fine for sharing info with your neighbors, but ACS won’t troll the Internet for it; they need the official reports for the plan to be effective.

The page also includes tips for living with wildlife, including prevention tips and homemade wildlife/cat repellants that can be made with nontoxic ingredients. The one for skunks can also be used as a tasty, piquant salad dressing.

ACS also encourages feedback on the plan, which you can provide by e-mailing CoyotePla[email protected].

On a personal note, I’m terribly sad. I’m of the mind that the coyote situation is one of several problems caused by humans and, like climate change, I think it’s too late to turn back. I’m an animal lover and an advocate, but I will try to protect my pets and anyone else’s anyway I can, whether it’s by beating the crap out of a predator with a tire iron or by shaking a can of pennies at them and screaming “Roogie roogie!” I hope it’s the latter.

I was considering ending this article with a verse from Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” because Bob Dylan’s vocalization was running through my head while I was doing research and listening to the city council meeting. Instead, I’m using the quote written by wildlife specialist Gregory Randall, who read it at the August 11 meeting. It’s an honor, and an epitaph.

“I am coyote, not villain, not evil, not devil, not scoundrel. I am what I am, I live where I live. I have died millions of times for being what I am, for being that which man has made of me. I sing for others of my kind, I do not hate, nor have I malice, I am not fear, I am not ruin…I am survival, I am adapter, I am dog of my maker.”

~ Gregory Randall

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
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