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By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Bold coyotes at Windy Hill

Uploaded: May 17, 2021
In late summer last year I was walking my dog across the top of Windy Hill when I ran into a guy going the other way with his own dog. He stopped me and said they had come across an aggressive coyote who had started to engage with his dog. It unnerved him and he told me I should be very careful. He seemed pretty shaken up, so I proceeded carefully (slowly?) but saw nothing and forgot about it for the next few months.

Then, about 5-6 months ago, I was in that same area with my dog, turned a corner and saw a coyote right next to the trail. I remembered what the guy had said, so I just stood at a distance and waited and hoped the coyote would leave. My dog stood at my side, not saying anything but watching. The coyote turned its head to the side, and another coyote trotted out. Then the first coyote looked straight at us and stomped its feet. I took that as our cue to leave.

I have learned that you aren’t supposed to turn your back on a coyote, so I backed away, pulling my dog with me. It was a narrow trail and my dog didn’t exactly want to back off, so this was not the easiest. The coyotes kept coming towards us, and I kept backing away, keeping my dog right by my feet. They didn’t seem afraid at all, but when I shouted at them, they stopped. They followed us on the trail all the way to the main road that goes up the hill, probably 10-15 minutes. Then they veered off.


Coyote at Windy Hill by Don Owens, licensed under CC BY 2.0 (2015)

Since then I’ve seen some at a distance, but not right on the trail. At least until this morning.

About halfway up the main road (Spring Ridge Trail), I saw two coyotes on the edge of the road. I stopped (with my dog), and waited. They slowly came toward us, and my dog started to get agitated. I yelled at them, but it didn’t seem to have an effect. One went behind us and one stayed in front of us, which made it more difficult for me to diffuse. Fortunately a biker came by just then and the coyotes trotted off. My dog calmed down and up we went.

On the way down, we saw them again, grazing on the grass right next to the road. I stopped far up the trail and made sure my dog was quiet. We just stayed and watched. Slowly one started to approach, then the other. I pulled my dog behind me, since I had begun suspecting she might be the problem and I didn’t want her staring at them. That seemed to help some. Instead of yelling at the coyotes, I talked to them in a calm voice and tried to reassure my now quivering dog. Eventually they ambled off of the road.

I thought this was blog-worthy for a few reasons (besides the fact that I hadn’t written my sometimes-weekly blog post yet)...

I wonder what is emboldening the coyotes. Is it just that there are more people (and dogs) on the trails and the coyotes have gotten used to them? I hope that people are not feeding the coyotes. I hope that people are staying on the trail, leaving the coyotes a safe habitat in which to raise their pups. I do sometimes see dogs off-leash at Windy Hill, often trailing after a jogger. Those dogs look pretty compliant as they follow along on the trail, but if they do go off-trail, I can see why the coyotes would get pretty upset.

These incidents reinforced to me how important it is to not feed the wildlife and to stay on the trails. We want the wildlife to stay wild and to have safe spaces.

In Tahoe we see bears, coyotes, and increasingly mountain lions becoming bolder and more habituated to people. As we encroach more into their territory, they are coming down to the lake more and interacting with people (and their pets). The trail system in Tahoe gets built out more each year, and with more people comes more activity. E-bikes may soon be allowed on trails, allowing even more people to go even farther into the wilderness. At what point do we stop? Each year there is less quiet space for wildlife to feel safe foraging and raising their young.

I worry about the effects of so many people enjoying the wilderness coupled with the erosion of habitat due to climate change. We talk a lot about the effect of climate change on people, but at least people have some ability to quickly adapt. We can move across the country (or the planet) to more habitable places, we can install fans and air conditioners, we can route water to where we need it, at least to some degree. But animals cannot do any of this. I keep meaning to do a blog post on extinction, but it’s too depressing. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how, or whether, we can achieve balance when it comes to the other inhabitants of our natural world, especially as we all face increasing pressures from climate change.

Notes and References
1. Live Science has some general information about coyotes.

Current Climate Data (April 2021)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Common sense, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 17, 2021 at 1:38 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

Coyotes have a long history in the greater Bay Area, but importantly, not in all of it. You mentioned a common theme, "As we encroach more into their territory," but not the parallel phenomenon, well-established but unfamiliar to many suburbanites: coyotes too encroach into human settlements where they have zero past history, especially when they locate concentrations of easy prey, such as domestic pets. This doesn't speak to your specific experiences in the local nature preserves (I too have seen coyotes, for decades but less aggressive, in MROSD hiking trails) but rather to the last several years' presence of newly active coyotes in neighborhoods (in Mountain View and elsewhere in the Bay Area) already settled by humans for 100-150 years and without prior history of coyote presence or activity. This happens nationwide, it isn't peculiar to this region or the west coast. Here's a standard scholarly paper on the suburban-coyote behavior patterns: Web Link Many residents in this county reflexively assume that all wildlife "was here first" (I notice that especially from people who themselves are comparatively new to the area). The reality is more complex. Some species are longtime natives; some were introduced, interacting in various ways with longtime fauna; some, like coyotes, are influenced by human presence and even attracted to it.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 17, 2021 at 6:47 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Yes, human activity has influenced where coyotes have lived. Here is one take on that from the footnoted reference.

"The species was originally only found in the prairies and deserts of central and western North America. Humans helped facilitate their expansion in the 1800s both by creating more open habitats through logging and agricultural development, and also hunting out wolves and cougars, which are natural coyote competitors. As humans took over more and more countryside, coyotes adapted to live in cities."

Coyotes have proven to be very adaptable. Their population is not endangered despite all the changes we have made, plus the fact that we kill over 400,000 every year. All species should be so resilient...


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on May 18, 2021 at 6:56 am

Neal is a registered user.

Several months ago I went out to pick up the morning paper (it was dark) and I witnessed a coyote trotting down Guinda Street. There no doubt they have adapted to urban life. We'll just have to learn to live with them.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 18, 2021 at 8:45 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

We do have to learn to live with coyotes, but that doesn't mean we have to tolerate foolish people who continue to feed coyotes to the point where they lose their fear of humans. Nor do we have to tolerate the biting of young children, our pets, etc. The "they were here first" mindset is tiring.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by TimR, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 18, 2021 at 5:20 pm

TimR is a registered user.

You could try the Hamm's Gulch trail. I run that once a week, and have never seen a coyote. I have see a lone coyote a couple of times at the top, though. As for Common Sense's "Many residents in this county reflexively assume that all wildlife "was here first": how many people don't even realize that honey bees are not only not native to CA, they're not native to the Americas! People just assume...


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 18, 2021 at 6:29 pm

maguro_01 is a registered user.

Something else drawing urban/suburban coyotes may be the population of raccoons, opossums, etc, coexisting with us. Also feral cats and domestic ones running free. The coyotes may now be part of an ecology, keeping their prey species in check. There was a reason that our ancestors domesticated wolves and cats it seems. But our cats are in such large numbers they are decimating bird and small mammal populations as they have not had predators themselves. The tiny dogs and impractically fluffy cats can only survive in an all-human world. Suburban deer, over time, may draw their predators also which is a problem we read about once in a while and have to deal with. Anyway, if I see a coyote on a trail and walk towards it, it disappears into the bushes. They are still shy of human interaction or close proximity and it's better that way. Being there with a small dog running free is likely a bad idea as is anyone feeding them.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 18, 2021 at 8:12 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@TimR: True, though Hamm's Gulch has a mountain lion, eep..


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Nearby Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on May 19, 2021 at 7:20 am

Nearby Resident is a registered user.

I can't imagine anyone feeding coyotes, and I hope it is not happening. I doubt that more humans visiting open space preserves or going off-trail have anything to do with your interactions with the coyotes. Coyotes have been around for a long time, and in my numerous encounters with them, they generally have not seemed fearful of me. I once reported an aggressive coyote to a park ranger at Arastradero, and she told me that they are particularly territorial towards dogs, and that humans in close encounters with coyotes should yell (in distinctly human tones) at them. My thinking is that if coyotes had more aversive experiences with humans, they would avoid us more.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 19, 2021 at 9:11 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Yes, makes sense. FWIW, re aversive conditioning, I just found this pretty funny video about hazing coyotes. If you watch it, keep in mind it is aimed at teens.

There is also some good information about coexistence here from the Humane Society.

Towards the end of the video, they caution not to haze (yell at) coyotes near their dens. It's hard to know where the dens are in our preserves. I hope rangers dissuade coyotes from setting up dens near trails...


 +   5 people like this
Posted by III, a resident of Midtown,
on May 19, 2021 at 7:29 pm

III is a registered user.

Well gosh...how many warnings do you need. How about backing off for awhile and picking another spot to hike/walk your dog. If you know it's a problem, why keep going back time and time again. Doesn't make sense to risk your safety and that of your dog.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 21, 2021 at 4:09 pm

Paul is a registered user.

I've noticed a marked increase in the number of dogs at Windy Hill. Could this be correlated to the more aggressive behavior of coyotes? I think 'Yes'. Dog owners are naturally concerned with the welfare and happiness of their pets, and some fraction will let the dogs off the leash because a free dog is a happy dog. Anyone who has been up on Windy Hill will have seen this. Some fraction of loose dogs will inevitably wander off the trail in pursuit of some moving target or some smell they pick up. Some fraction of those dogs are going to encounter the coyote clans who have a long-standing territorial claim to the entire area. Then what? The coyotes will start reacting to expel the dogs, especially if any dog has approached their den or their pups. It's a predestined conflict. It will only get worse until we either enforce the leashing of dogs or we eliminate the coyotes.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Expatriate From India, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on May 22, 2021 at 12:11 pm

Expatriate From India is a registered user.

*It will only get worse until we either enforce the leashing of dogs or we eliminate the coyotes. Coyotes are part of the natural ecosystem. Dogs are optional pets. If overly concerned, consider owning a larger dog that is capable of defending itself. Pugs need not apply.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 23, 2021 at 2:48 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I am concerned that when the coyotes staked out the side of the road you and your dog eventually kept going. And then encountering them again on the way back. It sounds like they are guarding their pups which are off to the side somewhere. I would have left the place at that point. A coyote can do a lot of damage to your dog and if you have a big dog you will have to carry him all the way back to your car and go to the vet. Not a good situation for a dog. Side note - we came home one time and a racoon was in the garbage area. Our dog barked at it and it attached our dog on the hip area and we ended up with a big vet bill. Our dog never went out again without checking the fence line. This was our home and the racoon had established it's territory adjacent to the creek.


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