San Ramon tries to deal with coyotes Panel hears concerns
July 17, 2000
John Sanford, Staff Writer
SAN RAMON — One resident says he has lost eight pet cats to coyotes. Another says three cats and a dog have been killed by the wild canines. A third was followed last week by one of the animals as she walked her dog.
A forum on “Co-Existing With Coyotes” at the San Ramon Community Center drew residents worried about increased coyote sightings and incidents.
A panel of mostly wildlife experts at the Thursday meeting discussed ways to discourage coyotes from becoming comfortable around humans and turning into neighborhood nuisance.
The city of San Ramon and Little Blue Society, a San Mateo-based organization that aims to manage conflicts between humans and wildlife through public education, organized the event after two coyote incidents at Dougherty Hills Park in May — one of which led to the death of a dog — and the discovery of a den site in adjacent San Ramon.
The Dublin city park comprises about 90 acres of undeveloped land to the east of Stagecoach Road and to the north of Amador Valley Boulevard.
The panel of experts emphasized that modifying people’s behavior — not eliminating coyotes — is the key to a long-term, peaceable relationship with the animals.
“If you kill a bunch of coyotes, you will eventually have other coyotes move in,” said Christopher Papouchis, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Protection Institute of Sacramento. Noting the San Ramon Valley’s many housing developments that run up against open space, he added: “This is going to keep popping up.”
Mary A. Paglieri, founder of the Little Blue Society, said that similar situations have occurred in other California cities. Portola Valley currently is having a problem with coyotes attacking dogs, Paglieri said. There’s a rumor someone is feeding the coyotes, she said.
Paglieri said she is organizing a community education meeting, similar to the one in San Ramon, for the Portola Ranch Association.
Residents can take measures to maintain distance between humans and coyotes, she said.
Wildlife experts recommend, for example, keeping cats indoors, especially at night, and never feeding coyotes. Paglieri emphasized that residents must work together in taking these kinds of steps. For example, if only one person is leaving food out for coyotes, that is enough to encourage the animals to return to the neighborhoods.
But some residents at the meeting were miffed at the prospect of not being allowed to, say, let their kids and grandchildren play in backyards unsupervised because of the coyote threat.
In fact, there has only been one confirmed case of a coyote killing a human: A young child in Glendale died after being attacked by a coyote in the early 1980s. But Papouchis pointed out that residents of that neighborhood had been regularly leaving food out for the animals.
“When coyotes begin associating us with an easy source of food, they can get bold and even aggressive,” Paglieri said.
In any case, Reg Morrison, a San Ramon resident who lives next to open space in the area of Burning Trees Drive and Alcosta Boulevard, said he has lost eight cats to coyotes and is alarmed at their apparent growing numbers.
Morrison said he is in favor of thinning out the population.
“Three years ago, we had no coyote problem at all,” Morrison said. He said he now regularly sees them on the other side of his fence.
“They got no fear. And they will get a kid. You watch,” he said.
Residents Shirley Alberti and Joyce Stolzy, both of whom live near Fircrest Lane and Alcosta Boulevard, said they had concerns about coyotes in the area.
Stolzy said coyotes had killed three cats and a dog.
“I’m pretty concerned with these particular coyotes,” Stolzy said. “They don’t have that fear of humans that is good for them and good for us.”
Alberti said that since seeing a coyote sitting on her porch in April, she is frightened to go out in the dark to pick up the newspaper delivered to her home.
Last week, resident Ann Charzuk said she was walking her golden retriever along Monte Vista Drive near Old Ranch Road when she saw a coyote approaching them. She began to run but, after a moment of consideration, realized that she could not outpace the animal.
So she started to yell at it. The coyote stopped, but when she turned to continue walking, the coyote followed them. Charzuk picked up some stones and threw them at the coyote, which was getting closer, but she said she was shaking so hard that she missed.
“I had never been so scared in my life,” Charzuk said.
When the coyote was less than 10 feet away, she said she succeeded in hitting it, at which point it began to bark and howl.
Then it went away.
A Danville woman at the event said she had been walking her two Yorkshire terriers on a Sunday afternoon when she saw a coyote. She said she picked up her dogs and ran.
Wildlife experts on the panel said that coyote populations fluctuate, tending to increase after wet years and decrease during drought years.
Rick Parmer, a supervising naturalist with the state Department of Fish and Game, has said that, in general, Bay Area coyote populations have been on the rise. The wild canines have no real predators, although a mountain lion may try to take one if the conditions are right.
Paglieri said that they are a positive influence on the environment.
“They are nature’s garbage service,” she said, noting that they eat dead carcasses of animals. They also keep rodent populations down, she said.
Coyotes are extremely smart and adaptive, experts say.
Camilla Fox, wildlife program coordinator with the Animal Protection Institute of Sacramento, said “they will eat almost anything” — berries, cat food, cats.
So it is important to shut down their food sources in neighborhoods, the panelists said.
“They’ll go where the food is,” Parmer said.
Coyote attacks on humans, however, are extremely rare, and are usually the result of a human actions, such as trying to feed the animals, Parmer said.
He said the department encourages letting coyotes know that they are unwelcome near humans by using “constructive harassment” — that is, yelling at them if they get too near and, if the coyote doesn’t respond to this, throwing rocks at it.
He said that if the coyote problem persists or worsens, residents can also look into killing them by contacting a federal wildlife specialist.
The city of Dublin contacted a federal wildlife specialist, who contracts with the Alameda County Vector Control Services District, after the coyote incidents at Dougherty Hills Park.
But the state Department of Fish and Game said it does not consider the coyotes a public-safety problem, said Dublin Mayor Guy Houston.
The department can OK the use of leg-hold traps if it considers the coyotes a public-safety problem.
What constitutes a public-safety problem is a judgment call, Parmer said. He said that it would most likely be behavior such as striking an aggressive posture — teeth-baring, snarling — and not responding to yelling or rock-throwing.
But coyotes can be shot, and this is the most likely recourse for eliminating the animals if one of the cities decides it wants to, said Brian Archuleta of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But Archuleta has said that neither San Ramon nor Dublin has contacted the agency to request that any such steps be taken. He also said the communities would have to give permission to the wildlife specialist to use guns within the city limits.