The human population of Ventura County coexists with wildlife living in what makes up most of the land within our borders, the Los Padres and the Santa Monica Mountains. Most of the time, creatures living in these wildlands are content with keeping to themselves, but that isn’t always the case, especially in areas where urban living bumps up against an undeveloped environment.
On Tuesday, May 14, the Ventura Sierra Club will host Justin Brown, ecologist, from the National Park Service who will discuss one creature in particular, the coyote, in an effort to educate its neighbors on what they eat, how they travel, where they live and how to respond when encountering one in the wild or, as has become increasingly more common, in your own backyard.
“They live pretty much everywhere here, there’s not really a place where coyotes never go through,” said Brown. Brown says that even in downtown Los Angeles, where green spaces are few and far between, coyotes are present. “They’re able to use everything from urban settings to some of the most rural.”
Brown says that coyotes need very little so-called green space to survive, and even thrive, in urban areas, pointing toward the availability of human-sourced food for coyotes and other creatures they eat. Studying the scat remains left by coyotes and performing what is called a stable isotope analysis reveals urban-dwelling coyotes subsisting off of corn-heavy diets, the typical diet of a human.
While coyotes are mostly happy to reside in the wildlands of the county, events such as the Thomas, Woolsey and Hill fires may have contributed to their dispersal into urban areas, at least temporarily. Brown says that coyotes seem to do well in post-fire areas.
“Truthfully, they kind of like those more open habitats, so in some way it may benefit them; once it gets too choked out they don’t visit too much,” said Brown.
California State University, Channel Islands, Professor Sean Anderson has been tracking and collecting data on Ventura County wildlife over the past 15 years and says that the fires, while killing many small creatures such as rabbits, squirrels and mice, did not kill as many larger creatures such as deer and coyotes due to their ability to run away, and animals that did survive transitioned to areas closer to human habitat.
“The reality is that the greatest concentration of these critters is often times right at the interface, where we have suburban meets larger, expansive open spaces, areas along foothills, surrounding Ojai, that kind of thing,” said Anderson. “What seems to have happened with these fires is that concentration of wildlife on the edge of our developed areas just spiked.”
Interactions with coyotes are not rare. In December 2018, a Ventura resident filmed a coyote carrying a black cat at Telegraph Road and Victoria Avenue. The Ventura County Animal Services has warned residents in the area of Victoria Avenue in recent years to keep pets indoors following reports of coyotes in the area. Attacks on humans, though rare, have happened. In 2004, a 3-year-old was mauled by a coyote in Simi Valley as it tried to drag the boy off of his front porch.
Anderson, chair of CSUCI’s Environmental Science and Resource Management, says that while the fires were devastating, the recent rains have helped in recovery and the animal populations are returning to life pre-fire, especially in the case of the Thomas Fire, which happened in 2017, rather than for the Woolsey and Hill fires, which occurred at the end of 2018.
“As the vegetation has recovered, generally speaking, that concentration of coyotes right in people’s backyards type stuff has slackened a little bit,” said Anderson. “In the case of the Thomas Fire, they’re a bit farther away from the wildland urban interface; Woolsey fire, they’re still very much close to the suburban edge.”
When humans come into contact with coyotes, Brown says that there are a few things that can be done to dissuade them from returning.
“One of the big issues is that animals become habituated to us. I can’t say that enough, please don’t feed them,” said Brown. In the event that a human comes face-to-face with a coyote, whether in their backyard or on a hiking trail, Brown says to shout and act aggressive so that they’ll run off.
Brown says that in a recently completed large-scale diet project, results showed that in some coyotes, up to 70 percent of their diet was human-based — whether that be from garbage, ornamental fruit-bearing trees or even cats and other small pets.
For those in attendance at Brown’s speech, he hopes they leave with a better understanding of our furry neighbors.
“I’m hoping people take away steps they can take, if there’s problems in their neighborhood, to reduce conflict, and to take away a broader understanding of how coyotes are using our environment as well as the natural environment,” said Brown.
Justin Brown presents “Understanding Southern California Coyotes” on Tuesday, May 14, at 5:30 p.m. at the EP Foster Library Topping Room, 651 E. Main St., Ventura. For more information, contact SierraClubVentura@gmail.com.