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By: Julie Morris, Agricultural Liaison, Santa Clara County

photo credit: Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley
photo credit: Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley

There’s a scene in the movie The Proposal where Sandra Bullock’s character, Margaret Tate, is on a phone call when a large eagle swoops down and snatches the family’s small dog, Kevin, right off the front lawn. Frantic to get him back, Margaret runs, screaming, to catch him as the eagle releases him from its claws. Predators come in all shapes and sizes and can swoop in anytime to capture and kill rodents, livestock, and even our small pets.

In Santa Clara County, the most prevalent predators are not bald eagles, but coyotes and mountain lions.

Mountain Lion: kids.nationalgeographic.com
Mountain Lion: kids.nationalgeographic.com

“Coyotes and mountain lions are the two species that most often are reported as causing problems for livestock. In suburban neighborhoods, residents in Santa Clara County have reported issues with coyotes attacking outdoor cats and small dogs.,” according to University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Human-Wildlife Interactions Advisor Carolyn Whitesell, Ph.D.

The conditions are different for suburban and rural residents. Although there have been sightings of coyotes and mountain lions in residential areas of Santa Clara County, they are more common in the rural rangelands where ranchers run cattle, sheep, and other livestock.

A bobcat wanders in the Coyote Valley. Credit: Open Space Authority
A bobcat wanders in the Coyote Valley. Credit: Open Space Authority

“There are actions we can all take to minimize the potential for problems with predators,” Whitesell said. “In residential areas, limit food attractants like pet food, trash, and birdfeeders. Keep cats indoors and don’t leave small dogs unattended outside. When walking dogs, keep them on a short leash.”

For ranchers and residents of more rural areas, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the regulations regarding the killing of predators. In the state of California, it is illegal to relocate wildlife without a permit.  Mountain lions located within Santa Clara/San Mateo counties fall within a proposed evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) that the Fish and Game Commission found may be warranted to be listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). While state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)  is completing a status review of the mountain lions within the proposed ESU, mountain lions are CESA-protected, meaning landowners are not allowed to kill them without a permit.

Coyotes, on the other hand, are classified as “nongame mammals” (Fish and Game Code Section 4150) and if they are found to be injuring property can be lethally removed without a hunting permit (under Fish and Game Code Section 4152(a)). However, coyotes are notoriously difficult to catch in cage traps and discharge of a firearm may not be permitted depending upon your location within the county, making lethal removal of coyotes infeasible in many cases, Whitesell added. Landowners are encouraged to contact CDFW or the Wildlife Center for Silicon Valley if they have a coyote problem.

In addition, lethal removal of coyotes may not solve the problem and could make things worse. This is because whenever a coyote dies, another one inevitably will move in and take over the territory. The new coyote may cause more problems than the previous one.  

UCCE provides landowners and residents individually tailored recommendations for protecting livestock from predators. In the unfortunate event of livestock lost to a predator, UCCE can also provide information on how to identify which carnivore species was responsible. They are also conducting research on the efficacy of nonlethal tools for protecting livestock from predators.

The following are some tips on how to handle predators:

  • For livestock producers, the type of operation and size and location of your property will impact what mitigation methods are available. If possible, placing livestock in a secure structure (with a roof) from dusk to dawn is one of the most effective ways to keep them safe from predation;
  • Electric fencing and livestock guardian dogs are also available tools. Fladry and lights (such as Fox Lights) are tools whose effectiveness in this region will be tested as part of a research project happening soon in neighboring San Mateo County;
  • Do not feed coyotes;
  • Do not run or turn your back;
  • Yell aggressively and be as big as possible;
  • Face the coyote and/or mountain lion and back away slowly, making noise;
  • Keep your pet on a six-foot leash;
  • Do not bend down to pick up items.
  • Be cautious of the time of day. Officials say it’s very rare for a coyote to attack a person and they are more active at night, dawn, and dusk.

If you notice a coyote acting aggressive, report it to the Santa Clara County Vector Control online at Vector.sccgov.org/coyote or call (408) 918-4770 or email vectorinfo@sccgov.org

Contact The Wildlife Center for Silicon Valley at (408) 929-9453 or online at https://wcsv.org/found-an-animal/ to report animal sightings.

For more information, contact Dr. Carolyn Whitesell, a Human-Wildlife Interactions Advisor, at cawhitesell@ucanr.edu