San Jose Mercury News

Residents plea:  Help cast out coyotes
S.J. permission needed for padded-steel traps

Front Page
October 5, 2004
Rodney Foo, Staff Writer

Chuck and Gail Haywood walk their schnauzer, Mr. Maxwell, in San Jose’s gated Villas of Almaden community. They say a coyote, one of many in the area, has identified their 15-pound dog as a snack.

Ever since that August morning when Gail Haywood and Mr. Maxwell, her 15-pound schnauzer mix, eyed a coyote while walking in their gated Almaden Valley community, life just hasn’t been the same.

That’s because the coyote, apparently identifying Mr. Maxwell as a meal, followed them home and now regularly lies in wait outside their Villas of Almaden residence.

”It makes me unhappy that I feel like a prisoner in my house,” Haywood said, ”because I can’t take my grandchild or pet out without looking over my shoulder all the time.”

For whatever reason, Haywood’s community has been overrun with coyotes, which have reportedly scarfed up dozens of cats, attacked a leashed dog and stalked a couple who were out walking with their grandchild. Now beleagueredresidents — with the help of Santa Clara County wildlife officials — are ready to fight back.

Their proposal: to set out leg-hold traps with padded steel jaws around the 75-acre community to snare coyotes and euthanize them.

To do so they must gain the support of the San Jose City Council at a meeting today, because such traps are banned inside city limits. The proposal has the support of Councilwoman Pat Dando, whose district includes Villas of Almaden.

”We have submitted a letter saying to the city of San Jose that we consider the situation to be a public health threat,” said Russ Parman, assistant manager of the Santa Clara County Vector Control District. ”So, the ball is kind of in their court about what they want to choose to do about that.”

Vector control workers have tried using box-type traps in Villas of Almaden, but the coyotes have avoided them. So, officials have recommended the leg-hold traps, which are easier to disguise.

Not everyone supports the approach.

”It’s a Band-Aid approach to a problem that demands long-term and systemic solutions and . . . public education on how to co-exist with coyotes,” said Camilla Fox, of the Sacramento-based Animal Protection Institute, a national animal advocacy group.

The traps that would be used around Villas of Almaden are designed to hold an animal without cutting its flesh, officials say. But Fox says the traps can cause lacerations and dislocate bones. And the traps also can snare pets or people, she said.

Fox recommends that residents first remove all food sources — such as dog food and bird feeders — that attract rodents or other animals that coyotes prey on, eliminating their prime food supply.

Compounding the problems at Villas of Almaden are deer, which leap over the community’s 5-foot-5-inch fence, topped with barbed wire, to munch on vegetation. In the spring, coyotes prowl the community for fawns, residents and authorities say.

”As long as there’s a deer population in the Villas, there’s going to be problems with coyotes,” said Mary Paglieri of the Little Blue Society, a Redwood City non-profit organization dedicated to resolving conflicts among wildlife and people. Paglieri, who was hired by the city to assess the situation, said she counted five deer during a daylong visit to Villas of Almaden.

But others don’t agree — like Bud Spadafore, president of the Villas of Almaden homeowners association. He points out that the 192-home development, which opened decades ago, was free of coyotes until the past few years — despite its deer population.

”If the deer were a problem, why were there no coyotes here five years ago? Why weren’t they here 10 years ago? Why not 15 years ago?” Spadafore said.

Others suggest a more compelling reason for the coyote invasion: construction of the Boulder Ridge golf course, east of Villas of Almaden across Almaden Expressway. The golf course probably disrupted the coyotes’ habitat, leading them to follow a small creekbed into Fontana and Guadalupe Oak Grove parks, and bringing them to Villas of Almaden, said Mike Phillips, a wildlife specialist for the county vector control district.

Whatever the reason for their arrival, the coyotes must be trapped and removed, said Spadafore, who estimates 25 family cats have been picked off by coyotes during the past year. Others agree.

”It is our position that when a coyote becomes urbanized and displays aggressive behavior, such as those reported attacking dogs on leashes and the disappearance of pets and losing fear of people . . . that is a precursor to human attacks, and we have to selectively remove that animal,” Parman said.

Wildlife experts say coyotes are incredibly adaptive and resilient; they have been seen in New York City’s Central Park and traipsing through Chicago. Trapping the offending coyotes — which burrow beneath Villas of Almaden’s fence — won’t stop others from filling the vacuum, Fox said. In fact, this invasion was preceded by forays into adjoining parks two years ago. Officials used leg-hold traps at that time, but it appears their use could have been in violation of city law.

The homeowners association said it’s willing to sign a waiver releasing thecity and the county of any liability, Spadafore said. All residents want is to return to a life of peace and quiet — and no coyotes.

”We should be able to take our kids out and pets out without being accosted by these damn coyotes,” said Chuck Haywood, Gail Haywood’s husband.