Community Commentary: Take measures to keep wild animals away

Coyotes are again in the news this summer, and although over the years I've written several columns about this topic, it bears revisiting. Much of the material below comes from brochures that Laguna Greenbelt Inc. distributed to urban edge neighborhoods in Laguna a few years ago.

Living close to open space provides the opportunity to enjoy the many wild creatures living nearby. The howl of a coyote, or a chance encounter with a quietly browsing deer, are experiences that help us connect with nature. For many people living on the urban/wildlands edge, these are the experiences they hoped for when deciding to settle there.

Our being on the edge of their habitat changes the environment for many wild animals. Homes and gardens represent new opportunities to find food and water. If we're not careful, we can create problem wildlife, dependent on the easy pickings of our garbage and pet food.

In general, we want to discourage wild mammals such as skunks, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, rats and mice from becoming too familiar and at ease in our homes and gardens, while encouraging birds and lizards.

All animals, including birds and insects, have four essential needs: water, food, shelter and protected nests or den sites. You can encourage or discourage wildlife use of your garden by controlling these elements.

The following simple practices can help discourage these animals' visits to your garden or house.

•Keep your garbage from becoming a food source. This is by far the easiest but most ignored action. Use receptacles with locking lids, or store garbage bins in the garage rather than outside.

•Avoid feeding your pets outside, and don't leave food out overnight.

•Clean any remaining uneaten food and sauce off your barbecue immediately after use. Skunks are very fond of chicken in BBQ sauce and will knock over a small grill, even if it is still hot.

•Prevent wildlife from living in and around the house. Screen all openings into the crawl space under the floors and keep the garage door closed, especially at night.

•Protect all outdoor pets with a fenced backyard.

•Vaccinate dogs and cats regularly against rabies.

•Keep all pets, including cats and small dogs, inside at night.

•Enclose bird or rabbit pens on all sides, including roofs or secure chicken wire tops. Bury wire walls of large enclosures 1 foot in the ground to prevent raccoons and other animals from tunneling underneath. Check the perimeter frequently.

•Avoid creating brush piles or rock piles anywhere near the house (brushpiles are also a fire hazard).

•Accept that raccoons and herons will eat the fish in your ornamental fish pond unless you cover it with chicken wire.

•If all other methods fail, private firms or the city animal control will live-trap and remove a nuisance animal.

I sincerely hope that we all take these recommendations to heart.

We spend our summers in Mammoth Lakes, where there is a vigorous community wildlife program to discourage the local black bears by altering human behavior.

Despite all efforts, a local woman was killed last summer by the bear she had been feeding in her yard. The animal she'd encouraged had to be destroyed — a double tragedy.

For more information, visit the California Department of Fish & Game's website,

ELISABETH M. BROWN is the president of Laguna Greenbelt Inc.

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