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North County is the stage for a bitter, man-versus-beast turf war.
A FEROCIOUS BATTLE over land is brewing in coastal North County, which has seen a huge rise in residential development in recent years. The coyotes were there first. The humans came and took their land. And now, the coyotes are taking it back.
“We are moving farther and farther out into the wildlands, where the coyotes have been living practically forever,” says Ann Morrissey, education coordinator for the North County Humane Society. “That’s why we’re having more interaction than ever with coyotes—we’re moving into their territory and, with the way we keep our homes and our yards, providing easy access to the food, water and shelter they need.”
Initially, she says, development pushed coyotes farther into the back country. But now that so much of North County has been built up, coyotes are filtering back into their old stomping grounds.
“Coyotes can have big territories, from a quarter of a mile up to about 7 miles,” Morrissey says. “And they are just so adaptable—they can even regulate the number of pups they have, because their reproduction changes based on food and other factors.”
The food drawing coyotes even closer to established neighborhoods in Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista and Encinitas isn’t limited to leftover meatloaf scavenged from garbage pails, or chunks of Alpo snatched from pet dishes. Often, it’s the pets themselves, Morrissey says. Indeed, the situation has grown so bad the Humane Society now recommends only large dogs be allowed to remain outside.
George Ahrens, who’s lived in the Oceana East development in Oceanside since July 2003, heeds that advice. “We keep our two cats inside,” he says. “At least once every other week, I’ve seen two coyotes about 20 feet from the building, walking along the greenbelt. I’ve also seen them cross the road in front of our house. And these boys seem to be healthy and well-fed.”
As far back as March 2003, the North County Humane Society issued an “action alert,” warning “coyotes are entering North County neighborhoods with an alarming increase and boldness.” Since then, the situation has grown progressively worse—to the point where the Humane Society last October held a panel discussion on coyotes at the Oceanside Library. One of the panelists, California Polytechnic Institute professor emeritus Rex Baker, said that while most people think coyotes don’t attack humans, there have been 74 documented attacks in Southern California over the past 25 years, 12 of them in San Diego County.
The coyote problem is particularly acute in the summer, when the pups, typically born in the spring, are old enough to learn to hunt. “We see a lot more of them eating pets as the summer goes on,” Morrissey says. “I think it peaks in August and September, and then dies down again until May.”
This year, she says, the Humane Society will not only again issue a public warning but also hold a second public forum, this one in the spring, before “coyote season” gets under way.
“Some people actually feed coyotes on purpose, because they think they’re cute,” Morrissey says. “We have to stop feeding them, and if people see coyotes they need to throw rocks, make loud noises, yell, use an air horn. We need to instill some fear back into coyotes.”