August 9, 2000
Portola Valley grapples with rogue coyotes.
Bird feeder that spills seed could be the problem.
Community meeting set August 17.
Can you actually change the behaviour of coyotes? That's
the question shaking Portola Valley Ranch, where a family of coytes
have been scaring residents and attacking theirdogs.
Within the last three weeks, three coyotes attacked a dog being
walked on a leash by its owners, Ranch Manager Nancy Azzopardi told
the Almanac. "These animals walk up the street," she said. "Some of
the residents are very frightened."
At least three of the wily animals have had a stay of execution
to see if a program of removing food and harassing them might
persuade them to go away. The Portola Valley Town Council had
granted an exception to a town ordinance prohibiting the discharge
of a firearm in town, so the Ranch could hire a hunter to shoot the
"Coyotes are extremely adaptable and highly intelligent," said
Mary Paglieri of Redwood City, who founded the Little Blue Society
about two years ago to help people coexist peacefully with
wildlife. "If you don't make them feel welcome, and don't give them
handouts, they'll leave."
Under the sponsorship of the town Conservation Committee, Ms.
Paglieri and her team have undertaken a program of education for
residents, and behavior modification for coyotes. "We need to
exhaust all of the options before we kill them," said committee
chair Danna Breen.
Residents of Portola Valley Ranch, and others who may have
coyote problems, are invited to a meeting with a panel of wildlife
experts to learn how they can safely and peacefully coexist with
coyotes. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 17, at the
Ranch House, 1 Indian Crossing.
Coyote sightings are not unusual at Portola Valley Ranch, where
many people move for the natural hills and oak trees that harbor
native deer, raccoons, mice and other wildlife.
When Ms. Azzopardi began getting reports early last winter of a
pair of particularly aggressive coyotes that were totally unafraid
of people, she called the California Department of Fish and Game.
She described the incidents -- coyotes attacking a 50-pound dog
being led on a leash by two adults, or coyotes attacking dogs in
their own yard with adults nearby -- to four or five officials.
"Everyone suggested the coyotes should be eliminated," she said.
On June 22, Ms. Azzopardi wrote the Portola Valley Town Council
and persuaded it to allow the shooting of the animals. "Our
children are at risk because of the uncharacteristically aggressive
behavior of these animals, and our children's welfare must be our
top priority," she wrote.
Ms. Breen was offended by the council's action to allow the
shooting of the coyotes and invited the Little Blue Society to help
look for other solutions. "I just felt we had not done our
homework," she said.
Say no to bird feeders
Whenever there's a conflict between people and coyotes, someone
has been providing food, Ms. Paglieri said. Otherwise the animals
tend to stay out of the way. "People unknowingly turn their back
yards into fast-food restaurants for coyotes by: improperly
securing garbage, leaving pet food and water outdoors, leaving
relatively defenseless cats and small dogs outdoors, and by feeding
other wildlife that may attract coyotes," she said. "Bird feeders
are a no-no."
At Portola Valley Ranch, the home with the dogs and most
problems had a large bird feeder near an oak tree full of wildlife,
Ms. Paglieri observed on a recent inspection. The birds had left
lots of seed on the ground, which then attracted rodents -- their
droppings were found -- which, in turn, attracted the coyotes.
Ms. Paglieri assumed the coyotes attacked the dogs either
because they viewed the dogs as competition, or to defend their
She recommended removing the bird feeder and putting up fencing
to re-route the game trail that passes close to the property. The
feeder is gone, Ms. Azzopardi said.
On a recent Saturday, Ms. Paglieri and her team went hunting for
the coyote den so they could discourage the coyotes by leaving
something smelly -- a rag soaked with ammonia perhaps -- to make
them go elsewhere. But they didn't find the den, she said.
Ms. Paglieri advised people to keep their cats inside at night.
"When a coyote sees your cat, it's food," she said.
Rick Parmer, a supervising naturalist for the California
Department of Fish and Game in Yountville, said the department
prefers alternatives to killing the coyotes, including education
about coyote behavior, and preventive measures, such as throwing
stones or pebbles.
However, coyotes are not game animals and can be hunted without
limit by people with a hunting license -- subject to local
regulations -- Mr. Parmer said. Only when coyotes pose a threat to
human life can they be trapped.
In any case, the department frowns on moving them elsewhere.
"We're just moving the problem somewhere else," he said. "They
could be transporting disease or parasites to another location."
Ms. Azzopardi hopes the Little Blue Society succeeds. "The
coyotes were here first," she said. "I am willing to grant them
reasonable time to discourage the coyotes. But if they can't, we
are prepared to do what we need to do to render the area safe. We
have to make sure that none of our children are bitten."