Portola Valley grapples with rogue coyotes
August 9, 2000
Marion Softky, Staff Writer
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 coyotes have been scaring residents and attacking their dogs.
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 animals.
“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 pups.
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.”