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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

March, 2008


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Living with Coyotes
By Karen Nakamura

This reporter is among those Marinites who have lost their kitty to hungry coyotes. These animals are so brazen they hunt within a hundred yards of US Highway 101. And while they're adapting to their new citified environment, like all wild animals, they're loosing ground to progress. In the last year, especially, it seems there has been a reversal of fortunes for our wild neighbors as we move into their territory.
However, Marin County Parks and Open Space District Chief Ranger Rob Ruiz said during an interview, coyotes are plentiful and prospering in Marin. "I've heard of at least 5 coyotes in the China Beach area." The Headlands and West Marin also have notable populations. "However, the coyote population of Marin is virtually impossible to count." Ranger Ruiz and Marin Parks and Open Space are trying to educate the public on how to live with the canines.

The name coyote (Canis Latrans) comes from the Aztec word coyotl and was "song dog" to the American Indians. They live in a variety of conditions whether in the wilderness or suburbs. They even found their way to Golden Gate Park last year with disastrous results. When asked about the family of coyote that were shot there, Ranger Ruiz was reluctant to comment on whether the animals should have been moved or killed but did say: "In the wild spaces of California, it doesn't do much good to remove already established animals because another group will just move in."

This opinion is echoed in the MPOSD 2007 winter newsletter: "As adaptable opportunists, coyotes will move into vacant habitat wherever they exist, especially if there is an ample food source. Consequently, the effectiveness of programs aimed at population reductions is most often short-lived. If coyotes in an area are killed, die or are relocated, the remaining coyotes will fill the vacancies, either with larger litters or by allowing outsiders to move in. The coyote's reproduction level appears to be directly correlated to attempts to control its population."

Those who live in a meadow environment backed up to trees are the most likely to encounter them. Omnivorous, they eat a wide range of foods including birds, gophers, cats, rats, garbage, insects, berries and fruit and are very important in controlling the rodent population. Normally they hunt alone or in pairs. Usually nocturnal, they can be seen at dusk and early morning. They live 8-10 years in the wild.

It is estimated 30-50% of adult coyotes die yearly from human-related causes. Born Free USA's web site notes: "Research has shown that coyote removal can lead to an increase in both rodent and rabbit populations as well as mid-size predators (skunks, raccoons, foxes, and feral cats). This increase in mid-size predators can in turn have a devastating impact on ground-nesting bird populations. Many wildlife ecologists emphasize that maintaining resident coyotes is positive for the environment and for preserving species diversity. Since most coyotes are not involved in conflicts, maintaining resident coyotes and ensuring that they do not become habituated to people through feeding should be a community goal."

Both organizations emphasize non-feeding by humans, including pet food left outside, garbage access and the like. MPOSD notes that coyotes have been frequenting roadside pullouts and approaching cars in the Marin Headlands, indicating they're being fed.

MPOSD says "We humans need to learn to coexist with this native species. The problem of dealing with the urban coyote will not be solved by extermination; this would just disturb the eco- system of the area. Education and coexistence are the solution."

By the way, Marin County Parks and Open Space doesn't just educate the public about coyotes, it sponsors ongoing events such as cleaning up the Santa Venetia marsh, teaching bass fishing and sponsoring kid and dog friendly walks among other fabulous outings. Formed in 1972 by the Marin County-wide plan, it operates over 50 Park and Open Space District Preserves. In March, there is a meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Strategic Plan to update the Parks Master Plan. The plan will define a vision, portray long-range plans and prescribe strategic actions. Call or check their website for more info.

This article used the MPOSD, Born Free USA and Animal Protection Institute web sites.


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