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Arcadia becomes latest city to trap, kill coyotes

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 09:  A coyote walks through Griffith Park, the nation's largest urban park, after fleeing flames on May 9, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. The Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles Zoo, Travel Town, and various other park features were threatened but did not burn in the wildfire that broke out yesterday afternoon and forced nearby residents to evacuate their homes later that night. So far the fire has consumed 840 acres of brush and is 40 percent contained by firefighters. Five fires have broken out in the park, which is mostly native chaparral habitat open space, since December including one near the landmark Hollywood sign. Los Angeles is experiencing the driest rain season since records began in 1887. Two years ago, the city had its second-wettest winter.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images
A coyote walks through Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Arcadia has become the latest city in Southern California to turn to trapping and killing to control its coyote population.

A number of Arcadia residents implored city council members to take the action after recounting stories of dogs being eaten, cats disappearing and of being stalked by coyotes.

Animal rights activists have protested the move, saying the practice is inhumane and, more over, isn't an effective management tool.

Andrew Hughan, a public information officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said coyotes are so prevalent it is "impossible" to reduce their population. When his department kills coyotes, “it’s to solve a very specific problem, which is a habituated animal that has lost its fear of humans," he said.

DFW only resorts to trapping and killing – and they always go together, there is no trapping and relocating – after receiving a report of a coyote attacking a human.

After a slew of bizarre coyote attacks on people in a park on Montebello last August, DFW killed five coyotes. They stopped as soon as they had a DNA match between the human victim and one of the coyotes.

“Once you find the perpetrator, you stop. You don’t just keep looking,” Hughan said.

In the short term, ecologist Niamh Quinn of UC Cooperative Extension in Orange County agreed that targeted killing of coyotes can be effective at removing problem animals from the population. But she said in the long term, education is far more useful.

“Making citizens aware of how to act in areas of where coyotes are, because coyotes are here to stay,” she said. “Coyotes are not coming from the hills anymore. We have a very very big urban coyote population.”

Researchers suspect that coyotes are sustaining themselves on food deliberately or inadvertently provided by humans: trash, pet food, fallen fruit from backyard orchards and yes, dogs and cats. 

Educating people to keep trash locked up, pet food inside and dogs on leash can help keep coyotes from becoming habituated to humans and avoid future attacks.

But animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, says trapping and killing is simply inhumane. They argue that snare traps, which are used to catch coyotes, cause unnecessary stress and suffering. The organization was also upset the Arcadia City Council gave no indication it was going to pass a trapping and killing program at its February 7 meeting. No citizens spoke against a lethal control program before the vote, which took place after midnight.

Arcadia City Council members said they didn't expect to eradicate their coyote population, just remove a few "bad actors," and they wanted to do whatever they could to help residents like Rachel Lin feel safe.

“We don’t walk our pets, we don’t walk our young children,” Lin said at the meeting. “We are helpless and we need your help.”

Arcadia has not had a coyote attack on a human since 2013, according to unverified coyote attacks reported to DFW and LA County Public Health and complied by Quinn. Indeed, most people who spoke at the February 7 meeting talked not about coyote-human encounters, but about being afraid.

Mayor Tom Beck was sympathetic. “No one should worry about going to the mailbox,” he said.

Most cities in the Southland, meanwhile, do not trap and kill coyotes -- including Los Angeles.

"The source of the problem is not the presence of wildlife, it is the environment that humans provide for them," reads L.A. Animal Services' coyote website. "Many people are encouraging wild animals to live near their homes inadvertently or by design. If we are going to push further and further into the habitat of wild animals we need to be responsible for our behavior."