By Ryan Burke
When Santa Clarita local Joel Turner went out on a routine walk with his dog on a warm evening last summer, he assumed it wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.
What he didn’t foresee was finding himself face-to-face with a wild animal nearly three times the size of his pet. In hopes of the predator leaving him alone, he picked up his small dog and left, but was followed for about a block until he turned a corner, leaving him and his tiny dog unscathed.
Spotting coyotes in unexpected places seems to be a common happenstance in Santa Clarita, and they’re not just around to frighten us and our small animals, they’re here for quite a few reasons.
“These would be traditional territories that these animals would be living in,” said Frank Hoffman, the recreation services supervisor at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.
Hoffman explained that coyotes are so prevalent in the area because of recent environmental changes: a lack of rain and a high occurrence of fires.
The fires from recent years have contributed to the loss of habitats for coyotes, which “is the real reason these animals become threatened or go endangered,” according to Hoffman.
It’s also the reason some have seen an increase of these apex predators in areas around their home,or in parking lots late at night or residential streets in the early morning.
“They’re expanding their ranges into what would otherwise be non-traditional areas,” said Hoffman.
The recently ended drought took away lots of vegetation and, with it gone, the coyote’s prey has been depleted. With a lack of food and water, they are driven to more residential and commercial areas – places you wouldn’t necessarily want to see a wild animal.
“If there’s no vegetation,” Hoffman explained, “the animals that they normally eat as a primary food source aren’t there either.”
According to the 24-year park ranger veteran, there are certain things that all animals need to survive: food, water, shelter and an ease of accessibility to these things, but unfortunately for them, they don’t have much ease of access to either in Santa Clarita.
The Santa Clarita Valley currently has the 20th largest population in California, which has been growing steadily since its formation. With a rising amount of residents, it is common to see new neighborhoods spring up in formerly wooded areas, such as Canyon Country’s “Aliento,” a recent addition to the city located within a mile of an elementary school, where nothing but grass used to be. Areas like these used to shelter coyotes and similar animals.
“With a lot of the development we’re seeing in the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Hoffman, “there has been a significant loss of their natural habitat.”\
Without their natural habitats, the fires, floods and recent developments have left the coyotes little room to roam to wild, which is why they’re so drawn to our living areas. However, we also can be responsible for the increase of coyote sightings around town.
“They’re looking for places to go, and we offer them food. When we let our cats roam around outside, when we water our lawns – this is attracting animals like opossums, squirrels, rabbits – things that coyotes typically would be eating,” Hoffman said.
When we have features outside our homes such as bird feeders and waterfalls, we are basically inviting coyotes into our neighborhoods, according to Hoffman. Prey for coyotes is scarce, and we are unknowingly providing it to them.
Possibly the worst effect of the large number of these omnivores in our neighborhoods has to do our pets, and how they can find themselves as possible prey at a moment’s notice, like what happened to 23-year-old Joel Turner and his dog.
“I just picked him up and walked away,” said Turner “It was honestly really scary for me.”
Turner’s pet was luckily unharmed, but this is the best case scenario when it comes to coyote vs. pet interactions. Every year, many pet owners lose their furry friends to these predators, so it is very important to take proper precautions.
“Never leave your pets unattended,” Hoffman advised. The Placerita park ranger recommends boarding your dog in an enclosed dog run, but only if it is safe and protected from wild animals. Hoffman also advises against leaving cats outside as well, and to closely monitor your pet when you let them outside for any reason.
Coyote attacks on animals have become so common that local Facebook neighborhood groups are being filled with posts warning others about coyote sightings, as to prevent them from losing a pet to these creatures.
However, if you do ever find yourself face-to-face with a coyote, there are certain ways to prevent a dangerous situation from occurring.
“Make loud noises,” Hoffman urged, “and make as much noise as possible to scare that animal away.”
Along with other similar animals, coyotes are primarily active at night, which is why Ranger Hoffman advises sticking to the “buddy system,” and using a large walking stick when hiking. He also recommends not hiking at night, or in unfamiliar areas.
Coyotes can be unexpectedly brazen, so it is important to intimidate them in order to shoo them away. Ranger Hoffman recommends banging pots and pans to startle them, or to actually bluff-charge the coyote like a bear would to a human, so that they “know that people are not a good thing to be around.”
If these attempts do not succeed, it is important to remember not to engage with the animal in any way, and to call local animal control if things get dicey between either you or your pet and a coyote. You can reach them at (661) – 257 – 3191.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we sometimes find that coyotes are not always the aggressors. In fact, it is fairly common to see coyote roadkill lining our streets, especially in the evening. This is another example of when to leave it to the professionals.
“Call the experts, call animal care and control, they will deal with wild animals that are hurt or injured,” said Hoffman.
Doing this allows veterinary professionals to come capture the animal and monitor them in a facility owned by Los Angeles County. This is the only option if you are faced with a situation in which you see a hurt coyote on the ground, as regular veterinary doctors are not permitted to work with wild animals.
Despite all the negativity surrounding coyotes, such as their predatory nature, it is important to look back and remember that a coyote’s purpose in life is not to terrorize our neighborhood and attack our pets.
“Coyotes are a very important feature in our natural environment. They are omnivorous animals that are opportunistic feeders that will eat many things and are out there to control wild populations,” Hoffman said.
So, although there are many serious dangers when it comes to encountering a coyote in the wild, they are only here trying to do their job, which is controlling the population of animals like rodents, rabbits and squirrels. Without their help, and the help of other predators, (bobcats, foxes, owls, eagles) we would be overrun with many different kinds of pests.
Another important fact to remember is that although we may complain about coyotes in our yard, our homes and our neighborhoods, coyotes ultimately were here before us.
“People say, ‘Ranger Frank, there’s a coyote in my backyard,’ and I say, ‘it’s not so much that a coyote is in your backyard, it’s that you built your home in their front yard.’ They were here first, they’ve been here for thousands of years,” Hoffman said.
While it is completely justifiable to fear coyotes due to the harm they can cause to animals, we should also take into account these facts, that these animals were here long before we were, and they come to our areas because they have little to no choice. A lack of rainfall and an increase of fires have depleted their resources, driving them from where they once lived to more residential areas, where it is common for us to encounter one in our daily lives. Along with the fact that new housing developments have overthrown their old homes, spotting coyotes has become more common, which may result in our pets being attacked, thus creating a negative stigma around coyotes.
“Coyotes are important to our environment,” said Hoffman, “and they’re typically more afraid of us than we are of them.”