Coyote sightings have increased dramatically this year in the Westchester and Playa del Rey bluffs

A coyote roams the Ballona Wetlands earlier this year

A coyote roams the Ballona Wetlands earlier this year

By Gary Walker

Like opossums, raccoons and other wildlife, coyotes have become just another part of the landscape for those living in the bluffs and hillsides of Westchester and Playa del Rey.

Recent sightings of coyotes in the front and back lawns of homes — in addition to a coyote chasing and biting a small dog out for an early morning walk on Hulbert Avenue in August — have some homeowners anxious that the animals are coming a bit too close for comfort.

Reports of coyotes roaming the hills in close proximity to homes has increased dramatically this year, Los Angeles Wildlife Services Officer Hoang Dinh said during a Nov. 18 community meeting in Playa Vista. Organized by the city and the nonprofit Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, the meeting sought to address how people should respond when confronting a coyote.

Dinh opened with a message that he repeated throughout the meeting: “Coyotes have always been around this area. This is their home,” he said.

But the one aspect of coyote behavior being reported in the bluffs and flatlands that alarms Dinh is how at ease the animals seem to be around humans. Typically shy and solitary animals, coyotes will almost certainly flee when a person stands his or her ground — or as Dinh recommended, throws an object toward them to scare them away.

“We don’t want them to get comfortable, and they will become more comfortable around us if people retreat from them,” he said.

Roy van de Hoek, a wildlife biologist who is co-director of the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute, said he has seen coyotes around the edges of the Ballona Wetlands off Culver Boulevard.

“There are small rodents, plants and squirrels in the wetlands, so there are food sources available for them,” van de Hoek said.

Richard Brody, who manages the wetlands for the state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, said he has not seen many coyotes in the wetlands, though he and some of his volunteers have found scat from the animals, meaning that they have at least passed through the ecological reserve.

“We did find an old abandoned coyote den, but I really haven’t seen a lot of them in the wetlands,” Brody said.

Dr. Eric Strauss, a professor of urban ecology at Loyola Marymount University, has done extensive work on coyote behavior in his home state of Massachusetts.

“We still haven’t determined whether cities produce coyotes or attract coyotes. We think of the open green spaces as being the places that they want to live, and that’s true to a degree, but they also want to live where the resources are,” Strauss said during the meeting. “When you think about these areas on the edges [of where people are living], these peripheral areas, these become the favorite places for coyotes.”

Coyotes typically prefer to avoid people, Dinh said, adding that wildlife experts generally agree that this is in the best interests of everyone — including the coyotes.

“It’s very important that they fear humans. That way they will stay out of sight,” Dinh said.

He stressed that people should not feed coyotes, which some at the meeting said they had witnessed. Feeding coyotes can deprive the animals of their hunting skills and make them dependent on humans.

“People who do this think they’re being humane. But what they don’t realize is that a fed coyote is a dead coyote,” said Dinh.

Los Angeles’ municipal code prohibits feeding coyotes and other wild animals, imposing penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s website, dfg.ca.gov, also gives guidelines for interacting with wildlife.

“The presence of a predator in nature is a good sign that there are more than enough resources. Otherwise, there would be no incentive for them,” said Strauss. “You have to understand that they’ve always been here and they’re going to continue to be here … and we just have to accept that.”

gary@argonautnews.com

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