Coping with the urban coyote

For Lt. Kent Smirl, keeping coyotes at bay in Costa Mesa comes down to three simple things: food, water and shelter. If a coyote sees those in your neighborhood, he'll be inclined to stick around.

"You have to start thinking like a coyote," Smirl said. "You have to think why he's there."

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife officer was the guest speaker Wednesday evening at a coyote-awareness workshop at Costa Mesa City Hall hosted by the Police Department. About 40 people attended to hear how to make urban areas unappealing to the wild animals.

"You're the alpha male and alpha female; you're the one in charge," he told the audience. "This is your street. This is your home. And [the coyotes will] learn from that."

Before Smirl spoke, Costa Mesa police Sgt. Bryan Wadkins noted that millions more humans are attacked by domestic dogs each year than coyotes. He cited research stating that only 21 humans were attacked by coyotes in California since 2007.

Still, most people have an inherent dread of them, Wadkins said.

"It's a human fear. We all have it," he said. "They're unpredictable animals."

Smirl noted that coyotes are opportunistic feeders. They'll go after things that seem easy, like food left outside or small animals, particularly cats.

He advised keeping pets indoors. For fruit-bearing trees, it's best not to let the fruit fall to the ground, he said.

Smirl advised never purposefully feeding coyotes. Doing so is a misdemeanor.

"When you feed the coyote, you're putting a death warrant on that coyote," he said. "He's becoming dependent on you as a food source."

Wadkins said animal control and police do the best they can to curb the problem, though officers will respond only to certain coyote calls.

Those include reports of a coyote attack on a pet, a contained coyote — which will be killed, not released back into the wild — and a coyote that poses "an immediate threat to the public."

Police won't respond to mere sightings of the animals, Wadkins said.

Officers also won't set up coyote traps.

Smirl was complimentary of efforts by Costa Mesa police to combat the problem.

"You've got a city here that's backing you," he said.

For non-emergency inquiries to animal control, residents are asked to call (714) 754-5311.

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