File photo. 

A proposed coyote mitigation plan that would’ve included the trapping and killing of coyotes in the City of Long Beach set the stage for a clash at last night’s city council meeting. At the meeting, fearful residents and animal rights advocates squared off over what should be done about the perceived coyote problem in the city.

The item was proposed by Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who represents a part of the city that experiences coyote sightings at a disproportionate rate, due to its inclusion of El Dorado Park and its proximity to the San Gabriel Riverbed, where coyotes have been known to roam. In fact, the bike path that runs through the channel is named “Coyote Creek.”

Mungo was prompted both by concerned comments and emails from people living in the area who had either lost pets to coyote attacks or have encountered the animals while out in the city.

The increasing “brazen and bold” actions of the coyotes, including approaching humans and being active during the daylight hours, has concerned many of the residents living within Mungo’s district. She said she was worried that an attack on a human could occur in the near future, if more effective measures aren’t taken by the city.

“We’re not trying to mitigate coyotes; what we’re trying to mitigate is coyote interactions with human beings,” Mungo said. “We do not want the coyotes interacting with our children, because our children and our pets are just as sacred as our coyotes, if not more sacred.”

The city’s Animal Care Services currently has a color-coded management plan that ranges from “yellow”—a daytime sighting that initiates a hazing team—to a “red”—a person being attacked. There have been over 200 coyote reports filed with the city this year, near its normal pace, according to Animal Care Services. There has never been a “red” coyote alert in the city.

State law stipulates that coyotes can only be trapped if they are aggressive toward humans, in which case they must be euthanized or released back into the immediate area.

After over two hours of deliberation and public comment, the motion was received and filed by the council, as it was decided that it was best to allow city staff within the animal care services department figure out the best strategies for dealing with the animals.

However, Mungo did push for a stronger plan to be written, which would help decrease the risks presented by the animals’ increased presence.

The main argument made among the public present at the meeting seemed to circle around who was entitled to the land, the coyotes who may have lived here first, or the residents who now occupy it?

Animal advocates, some of whom came from neighboring cities to voice their disapproval of a catch-and-kill policy, sided with the coyotes, while many residents stated it was the city’s job to protect its people, not wildlife.

Jennifer Staley, a member of a Facebook group for residents of Long Beach and Lakewood who have been affected by coyote issues, said that despite the rumors of the group being extremist or bloodthirsty, they are not advocating for the eradication of coyotes. The group, she said, doesn’t even believe that would be a realistic goal. Instead, they just want measures taken to ensure that no more pets and possibly children fall victim to a coyote attack.

“Most of us are not and never have been hunters,” Staley said. “What we have been is alarmed with the increasing increasingly bold and aggressive behavior of coyotes that are coming into our neighborhoods and the risks they present to the health and safety of our pets, our children and ourselves.”

Mary Liner has owned a home in Mungo’s district for over 20 years, and said that after losing a pet to a coyote attack, she changed her behaviors and kept her pets inside. She also encouraged neighbors to do the same. However, Liner said those measures along with prescribed hazing techniques—practices like making noise, waving arms or throwing objects at the animals in attempt to keep them away—are not enough, as coyotes have become more aggressive than in the past. She recounted several neighbors having to intervene when a coyote approached a woman walking her dog.

“She grabbed her pet; she did not have free arms or the ability to make herself big and haze,” Liner said. “She was holding her pet and she screamed and she yelled and she did everything she could. It was hunting, and in her words she said it was going to be her or the dog.”

Advocates in attendance had a starkly different take on the issue of coyotes, taking exception to the idea that a mitigation plan would aim to catch and kill them.

“We moved into their neighborhood,” said Judie Mancuso, the president of Social Compassion in Legislation, an animal advocacy group. “We live in their neighborhood, they came first and we can’t just kill everything that gets in our path. Humans screw up everything that has to do with animal ecosystems. And you should not use the word mitigate; mitigate means lessen. You shouldn’t mitigate these animals, you manage the animals.”

Fifth District resident Ann Cantrell agreed. She’s seen coyotes on multiple occasions, but she said it never occurred to her to be afraid of them. She offered a simplistic solution for those who don’t wish to join the many tearful owners who shared stories of losing their pets to attacks.

“I know it’s possible to keep your pets inside and responsible owners will try to protect their animals not ask that the coyotes be killed,” Cantrell said.

The unanimous vote to receive and file will not be the end of the coyote issue on the city level, as Animal Care Services will continue to vet the issue with public input, possibly returning to the council for approval after the process is complete.

A series of hazing classes will be open to the public at the end of the month with Rebecca Dmytryk of Humane Wildlife Control leading the instruction. Dmytryk said while it’s important to remember that coyotes are adept at changing to suit their environment, which may account for them being less scared of humans, they are not out to hunt them.

“The coyotes are not predators, they are scavengers and they do not stalk people,” Dmytryk said. “Like their cousin the jackal in Africa, they follow lions for scraps. They’re exhibiting the exact same behavior when they follow people. They do not see humans as prey.”

[Editors note: A previous version of this story stated Judie Mancuso was the president of Social Compassion in Litigation, the group’s name is Social Compassion in Legislation.] 

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.