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Activist Shows Up to Howl and Board Puts Off a Decision on Coyote Traps

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you took a vote among some sentimental animal lovers, they might not like Lila Brooks. She has been known to scold them for coddling coyotes like lap dogs, ruining the animals’ instincts for surviving on their own.

If you took a vote among some bureaucrats, they, too, might not like Brooks. She has been known to chastise them for punishing coyotes for man’s actions, treating them like intruders in Southern California’s expanding concrete-frosted suburbs when in fact, she says, it is the other way around.

If you could take a vote among coyotes, even they might not like Brooks. She has worked to curtail the handouts, the fat-of-the-land living that lures them down into foothill back yards, into conflict with pets and humans and, ultimately, into traps and death.

The overlapping margins of land use have carried the city out into the countryside, into the habitat of the coyote. And, as a result, about 100 times a year, the city’s animal control people trap and kill coyotes someone has complained about.

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How the coyote should be trapped was Item C on Monday’s agenda for the city’s Board of Animal Regulation commissioners. It was an issue that brought Brooks out of the hills to the downtown meeting.

As director of Hollywood-based California Wildlife Defenders, Brooks is not an unknown figure among animal regulatory agencies accustomed to a regular coterie of cause-people.

Before governing bodies up and down the state, Brooks has argued for years, with some success, for bans on feeding coyotes and other wild things; for prohibitions on steel-jawed traps; for watering holes to keep thirsty animals in the wild where they belong.

She speaks relentlessly, but not with words like “cute.” Her track record on legislation, as substantial as a second-term congressman’s, results, she says, from her cool and logical exposition.

Carrying in a trap as a visual aid, its chains clanking as ominously as those of Marley’s ghost, might carry some impact, too.

The city makes about a third of its coyote catches with a spring-loaded, soft-jaw, padded steel offset trap, and uses a walk-in box trap for the rest, Rush says.

Brooks calls padding “just a PR device,” and opposes any trapping. But she spoke Monday in favor of the Novak foot-snare trap as less injurious to panicked trapped animals.

Her speech ran a bit over the three-minute limit. She spoke above the rustling sounds as she unpacked from a series of bags a No. 3 Oneida Victor model spring-loaded trap, one of the sort she wants banned--but not the one the commission was considering..

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“That’s not the one we want,” said Commission President William M. Putney, a veterinarian.

“No?” asked Brooks.

“No,” Putney replied. “We’ve seen that one.”

Nevertheless, it served its purpose. “If I set it and put a pencil in it, you think it’d break?” asked Rush, with whom Brooks has gone round and round on the kinds of traps the city uses. “Try it,” Brooks invited.

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And in the time it took to put the device away, Brooks got in a few more remarks: This trap “is insidious. It should not be used. At all. Ever.”

Brooks is a one-time hotel executive who gave it up about 20 years ago when she “thought it was selfish just to work for myself and make money when this planet was so devastated by human beings.”

Her tenacious work for wildlife has not made her a lot of friends. Ther have been a few death threats and nasty letters. And there are the people whom she takes to task when they tell her, proudly, of coyotes they have conditioned to come at the sound of a dinner bell. A kitten may get eaten as well, the neighbors eventually complain, and the coyote gets trapped and killed.

“We’re talking about public safety. . . . They’re intruding into the urban area,” Rush said at the commission meeting.

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Brooks believes “people are the culprits, not the innocent animals.”

Whatever their dispute, Rush said later that he agrees with Brooks on this: “We’ve been on a collision course with animals and people for years.”

His department even makes use of a brochure that Brooks prepared about coexisting with wild things.

“We need voices for animals out there and she’s a neat one,” Rush said.

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In the end, the commission voted Monday not to endorse the Novak trap, which Brooks called the “lesser of two evils,” if they were going to trap at all. Point lost.

But they decided--given what Commissioner Eldridge D. Huntington called the “wide” and “scary” division in attitude “between the commission and you people in the audience"--to take a longer and larger look at how the coyote conflict is handled in the city. Point won.

Brooks also takes the long view:

“I negotiate. I compromise. That’s how you get things. You can’t get everything.”

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