By Sandy Brundage
Council votes to reconsider trapping law in response to coyote encounters
The solution sounds simple: One snick-smack of a trap, and one troublesome coyote vanishes.
Members of the San Jose City Council are reconsidering a citywide ban on leghold traps in response to complaints from Villas of Almaden residents who fear that a pack of coyotes spotted in their gated community will soon escalate from stalking them to attacking their grandchildren.
The city council motion passed unanimously at the Oct. 12 meeting to consider changing a 1989 ordinance to allow trapping and conduct an environmental review of what impact the change would have, although questions remain about whether the neighborhood is taking proactive measures to make the area less coyote-friendly.
During the meeting a dozen Villas residents shared stories of bold coyotes following them up driveways, killing cats, and circling children.
David James, a 20-year resident of the Villas, called the likelihood of attacks on humans "so high as to be inevitable. We don't have time for other measures."
But Camilla Fox, director of wildlife programs at the Animal Protection Institute, said that studies of coyote urbanization show that trapping now will create a more serious problem later.
She pointed to the last time coyotes were trapped in the Villas—a mere two years ago. Five coyotes were trapped. And now a pair of coyote mates with three pups has moved in.
"Within six months complaints resumed," Fox said. "We would say trapping is never the right thing to do. Traps are inherently nonselective. If you have a problem coyote, you can't target that coyote. And a trap doesn't discriminate between a coyote paw or a golden retriever paw or the head of a cat or a child's foot."
Fox added that trapping the current pack will simply open up a niche for other coyotes to move in, possibly juvenile coyotes that have a tendency to get more involved in conflict.
Also, according to Fox, coyotes are capable of birthing larger litters when their population is decreasing in a given area, so trapping the current pack may just lead to more coyotes.
So what would work, Fox was asked. "There's been very little public outreach—a leaflet was distributed by vector control, but leaflets are not enough. What is needed is a multifaceted plan to address urban wildlife conflicts. Very basic human behavioral changes need to be made. What's happened, nine times out of 10, habituated coyotes have been intentionally or unintentionally fed."
Some of the changes include not leaving pet food or pets outside, covering compost piles, and not putting trash cans on the curb until the morning of garbage pickup. Also, residents could work on invoking a coyote's natural fear of people by yelling and screaming, blasting them with water from hoses or squirt guns, and installing motion-activated sprinklers.
City council members Linda LeZotte and Cindy Chavez echoed some of Fox's concerns.
"What has or has not been done in Villas as far as education?" LeZotte asked during the council meeting. "You've said they've done this and this, but has anyone helped them with what they need to do? I'm getting conflicting messages. I'm hearing from the people allegedly in charge, who should know, that the [residents] aren't getting any education." LeZotte also questioned whether the residents had enough guidance from wildlife experts to know whether or not they were taking the right steps.
Vice Mayor Pat Dando responded that the residents have been taking action for at least 12 months. "They're committed. They've stopped leaving pet food out; they've removed salt licks," she said.
But a site evaluation at the Villas performed by the wildlife conflict mitigation consultants at Little Blue Society found overflowing bird feeders and salt licks still remained as recently as two weeks ago. The nonprofit group was hired by the city to suggest ways to resolve the coyote problem.
"The main thing is to remove food sources and alter the physical features of the area that make it so appealing," said Mary Paglieri, the director of the Little Blue Society. "It should be done today. It should've been done yesterday. As long as neighborhoods aren't providing free food, the coyotes will move on."
It's a chain reaction, she explained. Birdseed on the ground attracts rodents, free-roaming cats and deer. Rodents, cats and deer attract coyotes, which do their part by keeping their wildlife prey populations from exploding.
Paglieri said disrupting dens and altering the landscape to make it less favorable to coyotes and deer would take a few days, and the coyotes could be expected to leave within a week.
The city of San Ramon had similar problems, Paglieri noted. City officials there followed the suggested strategies and "they haven't had an incident in four years," Paglieri said.
Whereas San Jose, despite trapping, has already had a resurgence within two years. The city council is expected to consider the environmental review and suggested ordinance amendment at its Oct. 23 regular weekly meeting.