Part of the Suburban Landscape
Benicia’s abundant open space is home to many birds and animals, including one making headlines and generating a buzz on social media: the coyote. A close relative to wolves, coyotes are part of the suburban landscape where lines between developed and undeveloped areas are often blurred. Coyotes are not always welcome, though. Some say they are misunderstood and persecuted, others say they are a menace and need to be controlled; and still others advocate co-existence and common sense. Native to the Bay Area, coyotes are carnivores that primarily eat rodents. Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare, experts say.
Loss of Habitat
Benicia Police Lt. Scott Przekurat said the BPD has not received any reports about coyote attacks to humans or pets, and that city animal controller officers do not respond to wild animals. Police Chief Erik Upson, in late 2015, made an online report noting an increase in coyotes, raccoons, deer and other wildlife, mainly due to their search for food and water. California Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan said it is “probably true” that coyotes are on the rise. He said they have lost their wild habitat to development, are adapting to suburban areas and losing their fear of humans.
Taking to Social Media
Local reaction to coyotes is mixed. Sightings and other activity have led to the Twitterverse and two Facebook groups. Benicia Coyote Watch is a closed group with 264 members that advocates for co-existence and keeping local coyotes and pets separate and safe. The Benicia Coyote Activity group is open with 360 members, an interactive map of coyote sightings and educational posts. Members here post when a coyote has lured away and killed a dog or cat. Benicia Coyote Activity founder Jennifer Hanley said coyote packs are commonly seen along the Braito Trail on the west side of Southampton, and in neighborhoods that abut large open space areas. She said coyotes have become brazen, and one person reported a pack taking down a full-grown deer in someone’s front yard. She added that some residents who live near coyote activity feel like they are under siege and want empathy and help, particularly from city officials.
But are coyotes really the villains? Keli Hendricks, ranching coordinator with Project Coyote based in Mill Valley, said no. She said news and social media reports have greatly exaggerated risks coyotes pose to pets and humans. Largely misunderstood, coyotes are “really cool animals” with close family bonds in which pairs mate for life, Hendricks said. Coyotes are also extremely resilient and will increase breeding whenever they feel threatened or their pack numbers have decreased. This makes controlling them nearly impossible.
Hendricks and others agree people should not feed coyotes at all, ensure there is no access to pet food and water dishes, and that they can’t get into garbage or compost areas. Dogs and cats should be kept safe, and if a coyote comes close, scare it away with noise and body language. In its Keep Me Wild campaign, the Department of Fish and Wildlife urges a hands-off approach. Project Coyote (projectcoyote.org/) also has numerous tips for how best to deal with coyotes. Since neither people nor coyotes are going anywhere, Hughan said people need to do their part. “We’ll have to find ways to live with them. Every human is going to have to take responsibility,” he said.