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Killing Coyotes: One more nail in the coffin

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 29, 2004


"The overwhelming tragedy of planet Earth is man's contempt for nature." — Robert van den Bosch

Last week the news was of Pelicans in peril, this week it is the extermination of coyotes in Oceanside. Everyday it's something else contributing to the continual decline of southern California's native habitat, another housing project, a private school, an office complex, or a new road. As native habitat succumbs to human degradation, the animals that once live thrived in the coastal sage scrub and riparian ecosystems have been pushed into suburban neighborhoods seeking room and board.

Coyotes included.

The Coyote is an opportunistic predator that uses a variety of hunting techniques to catch small mammals likes rabbits and squirrels, with smaller mammals being the bulk of its diet, which is composed of mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, other small rodents, insects, reptiles, and fruits and berries of wild plants. Coyotes love melons.

The species that historically made up a coyote's diet have all but disappeared due to human development. The stucco jungle we call home is hardly conducive to species such as rabbits and squirrels. Mice and other small mammals have nowhere to go but suburban habitats. Labeled as vermin or pest, these animals are declared undesirable and targeted with poison and trapping. Road kill also takes its toll.

Individual animals smart or lucky enough to find a niche in our neighborhoods must then contend with the bored house pet. Domestic cats, to the point of genocide decimate native bird and lizard populations. When was the last time California quail was seen in Oceanside, Carlsbad or Encinitas? With few options left, Coyotes can eat domestic or starve.

And as expected small dogs and cats become a link in the food chain when wild predators are forced into close quarters with domestic pets. This has been the case since western civilization made its way west with Fido and Fluffy. Of course most people understand this and do what they must to protect their companion animals responsibly, with respectful diligence and a basic understanding of animal behavior.

Flash forward now to 2004 where development continues to force native species to alter their behavior in order to survive. This is where the untended lap dog, or clueless cat, finds itself on the menu. And as human population continues to increase in Oceanside so too does the population of domestic pets. And as every action has a reaction, as human communities continue to develop, the populations of native prey species decline as a result.

Putting the coyotes in the crosshairs is a homeowners association unwilling to come to terms with the biological community in which they live.

When the Ocean Hills Country Club was built as a gated community in southeastern Oceanside, more than a decade ago, it was surrounded on all sides by disturbed coastal sage scrub. Yes ladies and Gentlemen the Country club moved into the coyote's neighborhood. Eradicating the native species, the cookie cutter community was vegetated with non-native species so the new residents can declare paradise found.

But paradise replaced won't go away.

In response to an increase of domestic pet predation, The Ocean Hills Country Club to hire a contractor to kill the coyotes. Area residents claim coyotes have become more brazen recently ---- jumping fences to enter back yards, sometimes killing small dogs and cats. To counter dissent of the eradication policy, the Ocean Hills Homeowner Association sought support from the State. Fish and Game allows licensed, private companies to kill "nongame" species if they have destroyed private property such as a family pet.

Such is life in the land of diminishing returns.

Pushed, the California Department of Fish and Game has declared coyotes in and around the senior community of Ocean Hills Country Club, as a threat to human safety, and that it will call in federal trappers to kill the coyotes. Ocean Hills Country Club borders the Calavera Preserve, one of only two remaining large contiguous native habitats in coastal North County. Wildlife Services, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will trap the animals and "euthanize" them on the spot.

Not only is this decision short sighted it is also unethical and morally bankrupt.

Yes, pets have been lunch. In the past decade I lost three feline companions to a den of coyotes living in the marginal habitat separating Northwest Leucadia and Interstate 5. The loss of a companion animal is never easy. If a car kills you cat, you don't kill the driver or dismantle the car. You deal with the loss and move on.

Why is predation judged differently than a reckless motorist, or an irresponsible pet "owner"?

Why do we murder nature?

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