The animal welfare group PETA has settled a lawsuit with the city of Arcadia over a plan to trap and kill coyotes in the area. As part of the settlement, the city will explore nonlethal methods of dealing with the coyotes and will pay $15,000 in legal fees to PETA.
"We see this as a victory in the short term," says Lisa Lange, senior vice president with PETA. "It sends a message that you can't circumvent the law when it comes to figuring out how to live peacefully with our wildlife."
PETA's lawsuit argued that the city failed to review how the removal of the predator will affect the environment, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. The Arcadia City Council had approved the coyote trap-and-kill program by unanimous vote in February, allotting up to $20,000 for the program using snare traps. (Arcadia had enacted a similar trapping program in 2010 and 2011, killing 20 coyotes, according to a city report.) City officials said they approved the most recent plan after receiving complaints from residents about an increase in coyotes and coyote attacks.
Jason Kruckeberg, assistant city manager of Arcadia, says the main purpose of the settlement was to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. He says the city has shelved the trapping program it passed in February for a coyote management plan that includes public education and tips for residents to ward off coyotes, such as installing motion lights in the backyard.
"There's certainly been a lot more sightings than would be considered normal over the past year or so," Kruckeberg says. "A lot of our residents are reporting it has ratcheted up as far as the number of sightings and the level of aggressiveness of the coyotes."
Officials said they were receiving about three to five complaints each month — though PETA claimed that documents it obtained suggest city officials exaggerated the number of complaints.
PETA also argued that the controversial use of the unmanned snare traps is inhumane and can trap other animals. The city of Los Angeles banned the use of snare traps in 2014.
State law says that an animal caught in a snare trap must either be immediately released or killed. Although Arcadia City Council members did not specify at the time how trapped coyotes would be killed, Lange says the management company hired by the city has a record of gassing the animals with carbon dioxide. Lange says gassing causes a slow and painful death that amounts to cruelty.
Camilla Fox, executive director of the nonprofit Project Coyote, says the most effective way to minimize negative encounters with coyotes is to take precautions such as walking dogs on a leash, keeping cats inside (especially at night), clearing the ground of fruits, cleaning outdoor grills and removing compost heaps. During dry seasons, she recommends draining koi ponds and protecting irrigation lines.
"Part of our message is that coyotes are here to stay," Fox says. "And we know from peer-reviewed science that trapping and removal does not work. It creates a territorial void that will soon be filled by coyotes immigrating from outside or from [higher rates of] pup survival.”
The coyote species native to Southern California is Canis latrans, which translates to "barking dog," a reference to the animal's penchant to howl and yip at night, or even during the day. They typically have grayish fur with a golden-yellow hue, and an adult can weigh from 15 to 40 pounds or more.
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Animal welfare advocates say that coyotes serve an important role in the local ecosystem, feeding on rodents and squirrels and keeping the population of those and other small mammals under control. The highest frequency of negative encounters with coyotes comes during the pupping season, from April to August, when coyotes turn more territorial and protective of their litters, according to Project Coyote.
Lange of PETA says the city of Arcadia has agreed to introduce a coyote education program and to "exhaust every humane method as far as living with coyotes."
"We'll be keeping a close eye on the outreach and education they do," Lange says. "We will be monitoring it very closely."
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the timing of pupping season and to clarify Fox's quote on trapping and removal.