Neighborhood Bear Sightings Plummet, But Coyotes Remain Urban Threat

Residents urged to help change coyote behavior by ‘hazing’ in draft urban wildlife management report

Published : Thursday, February 14, 2019 | 6:17 AM

Black bears, who repeatedly skinny-dipped in Pasadena pools and put foothill neighborhoods on alert for the past three years, have mysteriously all but stopped their forays recently, said Pasadena Humane Society Communications Director Jack Hagerman Wednesday. But coyotes appear to be losing their fear of humans.

Both Hagerman and Pasadena Public Health Director Michael Johnson talked bears, coyotes, and other local wildlife as they outlined the City’s Draft Urban Wildlife Management Plan at Blair High School to residents.

The 35-page draft document, currently being prepared for City Council approval, outlines the City’s plan for managing wildlife in an urban environment.

According to the presentation, the City’s proposed strategy is based on “balancing respect and protection for wildlife and their habitats without compromising public safety.”

The strategy consists of public education designed around “co-existence with wildlife,” the presentation noted, along with “enforcement of laws and regulations prohibiting the feeding of wildlife, and ensuring public safety by implementing appropriate tiered responses to wildlife and human interactions.”

Haberman explained “hazing” as a method to reshape coyote behavior to avoid human contact in an urban setting.

“Although coyotes are skittish,” said Hagerman, “they can begin to lose their fears of humans after a while,” which is why hazing needs to be consistent in a coyote-intensive environment.

The draft report also stressed the difficulty of  tracking actual coyote numbers, but said, “What is known is that coyotes can become habituated if they are intentionally or unintentionally fed, which can lead to bolder behavior when coyotes lose their fear of people.”

According to the draft report and presentation,  residents living in close proximity to coyotes should remove items which attract coyotes, identify potentially dangerous situations for their pets and themselves, and respond in a manner designed to change coyote behavior.

Johnson explained that pet owners need to protect their pets, as unattended dogs and cats attract coyotes. Residents need to learn hazing effectiveness and techniques, said the report, and a hazing program must be instituted and maintained on a regular basis.

Hagerman emphasized that hazing needs to be active for a sustained period of time to achieve the desired change for the highest possible long-term success, and it requires monitoring to assess its effectiveness and to determine if further action or more aggressive hazing is needed.

Hagerman also explained, more specifically, that basic hazing consists of standing your ground, never ignoring or turning your back to a coyote and yelling or making unpleasant and frightening noises until the animal choose to leave.

“You can’t stop until they back away,” he said. Otherwise, the coyote will learn to “wait” until the person gives up.

Hagerman also emphasized that any hazing should take place at a safe distance.

More aggressive hazing consists of approaching an animal quickly and aggressively, throwing projectiles, spraying with a hose or water gun, or creating fear of contact so the animal leaves the situation.

Hazing must continue once it begins until the animal leaves. Not following through with hazing will create an animal more resistant to hazing instead of reinforcing the image that “people are scary.”

Both Johnson and Hagerman noted that a normal, healthy coyote will not escalate a situation with an aggressive person and that hazing is not successful with every species of wild animal because different types of animals have different traits.

Johnson also stressed that feeding wildlife, while well-intentioned, may lead to an increase in wildlife activity.

“Feeding,” said the report, “either intentionally or unintentionally, can attract wildlife and their prey to an area leading to an increased likelihood of creating a habituated wildlife resulting in increases in wildlife and human interactions.

California law also prohibits feeding wildlife, said the report.

The report also noted that the City of Pasadena does not have jurisdiction over wild animals found within its boundaries, nor is the city responsible for the actions or damage caused by them.

“These animals are a common and important integral part of our ecosystem, biosphere and the circle of life,” said the draft report.

Hagerman said that the reason for fewer recent black bear sightings are unknown, but he noted that they tend to stay in the foothills and only venture into populated areas on rare occasions, such as a drought.

According to the report,  California’s bear population has increased in recent years. Black bears are being observed in areas where they were not seen 50 years ago along the Central Coast and Transverse mountain ranges of Southern California.

Between 17,000 and 23,000 black bears are now estimated to occupy 52,000 square miles in California, said the report.

Black bears occupy a variety of habitats, the report noted; however, bear populations are densest in forested areas. Black bears have been found to create dens in slash piles, under large rocks, and even on open ground. Bears have become comfortable creating a den under homes or decking.

The mixed-Chaparral/Coastal Sage Scrub/Desert scrub habitats that dominate the San Gabriel Mountains are not the best habitats for bears, said the report, “but they are very adaptive animals.”

“This is one of the reasons that we have seen a spike in the bear population in the San Gabriel foothills,” said the report. “Urban habitats are actually superior to those in the Angeles National Forest. It is much easier for bears to make a living in communities with unlimited food, water and shelter for bears.

Hagerman also explained that, because of the mild winters and year-round food sources, black bears in Southern California do not hibernate in the same way that bears do in Northern California. They become less active and they retreat back into the forest more; but they can still remain fully awake and forage throughout the winter months.

The report also emphasized never feeding bears.

“This is against the law, is dangerous, and can disincentive the bear from leaving your property,” said the report.

Foothill residents should also make trash cans inaccessible and clean, and  Bring them inside at night or buy a bear-resistant trash can or an enclosure for the container.

Compost piles should also be enclosed, said the report, noting that open compost piles, especially those that include kitchen scraps, are “an irresistible treat in bear country.”

“Burying compost won’t work because bears easily find and dig it up,” the report added.

Residents should also recycle wisely, as bears can break into bins, said the report. Barbeques should be kept clean of drippings, which will attract bears, and bird feeders should be installed far from homes, as bears will climb fences and damage property to reach outdoor bird feeders.

The report also noted that attacks by black bears on people are very rare and most black bears can be easily scared away. Should residents encounter a bear, they should:

  • Stand and face the bear directly. Never run away from or approach him.

  • Make yourself look as big as possible by spreading your arms or, better yet, a coat.

  • Make as much noise as possible by yelling, banging pots and pans or using other noisemaking devices.

After the bear leaves, residents should remove whatever attracted the bear to the location to prevent its return.

Should the bear approach and you have bear spray, said the report, spray the bear as he approaches.

Finally, the report noted, chillingly, “In the very rare case that a black bear does attack you, fight back. Don’t play dead.”

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