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Huntington Beach gets tougher with coyotes and could trap and kill animals who attack

Huntington Beach gets tougher with coyotes and could trap and kill animals who attack
Mary Watson-Hiber holds a photograph of her dachshund, Benjamin, which was attacked and killed by a coyote in September. (Scott Smeltzer / HB Independent)

Huntington Beach has its first plan for cracking down on coyotes that roam the city, including the possibility of trapping and killing animals involved in violent encounters.

City Council members voted unanimously Monday night to implement a coyote management plan that features a three-pronged strategy for protecting residents and pets from the feral canines.

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The plan focuses primarily on educating residents on how to coexist with coyotes. It also includes stepped-up enforcement of the prohibition on feeding wild animals and implementation of a four-tiered, color-coded alert-and-response system for when coyotes interact with humans or pets.

The police department is to report to the council in six months to gauge whether the plan is working or if tweaks need to be made.

"Through our engagement with the community, we realized that we needed to work on a different and better strategy," Police Chief Robert Handy said Monday.

The plan is in response to a City Council directive in October for city staff to look into management strategies and to organize a town hall meeting to hear from community members.

More than 100 residents attended the tense town meeting Nov. 23 and told Handy and officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that more action was needed besides educating the public about how to scare, or "haze," coyotes.

As of October, 478 coyote sightings had been reported this year in Huntington Beach, and 78 reports were filed of a pet being injured or killed by a coyote. In all of 2014, there were 37 reported attacks on pets, according to the police department.

There have been no reports of a coyote attacking a human.

Residents at the town meeting, many of whom had lost a pet to a coyote attack, said the city should strongly consider trapping the wild animals.

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Sullivan said Monday that he believes hazing does not work on coyotes anymore because they have grown accustomed to being around humans. But he said he also understands that trapping and relocating coyotes is illegal under state law.

A coyote that is trapped must be euthanized because relocating it from its natural habitat could spread diseases to other wildlife and would simply move the problem elsewhere, experts say.

"I realize there are problems with trapping, but what else do we have?" Sullivan said. "We need to protect our citizens and their pets."

The city's response plan gives coyote-related incidents four color-coded alert levels: green, yellow, orange and red:

• Green: Someone sees or hears a coyote. The city's response will be to educate residents about coexisting with the animals, including keeping pets and pet food indoors, and teaching hazing techniques such as making loud noises and making oneself appear big. Such tactics help reinforce the coyotes' fear of humans, experts say.

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• Yellow: Frequent coyote sightings are reported. City officials would teach more-aggressive hazing techniques, such as throwing rocks or sticks and spraying the coyotes with water. A residents' hazing group could be formed in that neighborhood.

• Orange: An attack on a pet is reported. Police and other city staff would work to educate residents about prevention techniques and to identify the coyote responsible for the attack, with the option to trap and kill it.

• Red: A human is attacked by a coyote. Officials would investigate the incident and work to trap and kill the coyote responsible for the attack.

City Clerk Joan Flynn, who spoke during public comments Monday, said she has lost a pet to a coyote and understands the emotional toll, as well as the cost of trying to prevent coyotes from entering one's property. She said she does not agree with trapping and killing but wants the city to be more proactive.

"I can't even kill spiders — I can't kill anything — but I don't want my pets to be eaten," she said.

Carpio writes for Times Community News.

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