Residents of a neighborhood in the hills near San Clemente are upset that their homeowners association has hired hunters to trap and kill coyotes. An extermination company was hired this week after a coyote bit a grade-school student and several of the animals surrounded a woman, both within the past few months. So far one coyote has been killed.
Some residents said they are willing to accept the risks that come with living near the foothills and are more upset by the extermination plan than by the coyotes.
Jim Cox, the fire chief of Montebello and a resident of the Talega community, said he witnessed a killing early Tuesday morning while walking his dogs. He said the coyote -- trotting along a ridge -- stepped into a trap and injured itself as it struggled to get free.
"There was blood all over the place," Cox said.
Cox said he rushed home, got wire cutters and raced back to the trap to free the animal. But, Cox said, a man got out of a truck, threw a blanket over the animal and injected something into it before the animal became still.
"At first, I thought, 'Maybe it's a tranquilizer,' " said Cox. "I knew better, but that was my first hope."
Officials later confirmed that the coyote had been killed.
Animal Pest Management was hired by the homeowners association to trap and kill aggressive coyotes over a 10-day stretch, said Patricia Minassian, vice president of the company that manages Talega under a contract with the homeowners association.
She said the plan was approved after several coyote incidents had been reported: One bit a girl at a San Clemente elementary school, and several coyotes surrounded a woman and her dog, who were rescued by a motorist who stopped and let them into his car.
"The action the board has taken at this time is a coyote management program that only identified the most aggressive coyotes that have become bold enough to leave their natural habitat and enter the human habitat," Minassian said.
The company has about 11 traps in the hills behind the homes. One coyote has been trapped and killed so far.
One resident said she is so distressed by the traps she plans to withhold her monthly association dues.
"Until they can provide me with a financial accounting that my money is not being spent to do something that I think is morally wrong, I'm not going to pay my dues," said Jamie Gable.
Gable is also worried that her children, who like to play in the hills behind her home, could get caught in one of the traps. "To think your child could get injured in a place that you assume to be safe is frightening," she said.
The only recourse with problem coyotes is to kill them, Minassian said.
It is illegal to relocate them, according to state Fish and Game officials. And because coyotes are not endangered, no permits or approval is needed.